Ethicists Argue for After-Birth Abortion

A paper in the Journal of Medical Ethics is ruffling lots of feathers.

Pockets of the Internet are just beginning to bubble over paper published in the March issue of the Journal of Medical Ethics. Editors of the journal decided to prepublish the paper, titled,  “After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?”, online last week, and it’s already making waves. From the abstract:

Abortion is largely accepted even for reasons that do not have anything to do with the fetus’ health. By showing that (1) both fetuses and newborns do not have the same moral status as actual persons, (2) the fact that both are potential persons is morally irrelevant and (3) adoption is not always in the best interest of actual people, the authors argue that what we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled.

So far, only a handful of blogs have picked it up (this one includes a lengthier summary of the authors’ arguments, if you’re interested), but, predictably, the comments sections on those posts are blowing up. Earlier today, the editors of the journal published a response in defense of their decision to publish the paper:

This article has elicited personally abusive correspondence to the authors, threatening their lives and personal safety. The Journal has received a string abusive emails for its decision to publish this article. This abuse is typically anonymous.

… As Editor of the Journal, I would like to defend its publication. The arguments presented, in fact, are largely not new and have been presented repeatedly in the academic literature and public fora by the most eminent philosophers and bioethicists in the world, including Peter Singer, Michael Tooley and John Harris in defence of infanticide, which the authors call after-birth abortion.

The novel contribution of this paper is not an argument in favour of infanticide – the paper repeats the arguments made famous by Tooley and Singer – but rather their application in consideration of maternal and family interests. The paper also draws attention to the fact that infanticide is practised in the Netherlands.

… What is disturbing is not the arguments in this paper nor its publication in an ethics journal. It is the hostile, abusive, threatening responses that it has elicited. More than ever, proper academic discussion and freedom are under threat from fanatics opposed to the very values of a liberal society.

Read the journal’s full response over here.