The Philosophy of After-Birth Abortion (Opinion Piece)

‘After-birth abortion’ or infanticide for babies with a disability is supported by more than 9 in 10 Belgian physicians surveyed in a 2020 research paper.

Daniel Loncaric, Contributor

Have you ever heard the term after-birth abortion? Maybe you have, but it is likely a foreign concept to you, an outrageous one at that. Killing a newborn? Who could do such a thing? You may have these thoughts running through your head after first hearing of such an idea, it’d be a homicide. Surprisingly, it isn’t that far-fetched of a concept. The name was first used in a study published by Dr. Francesca Minerva and Alberto Giubilini in 2013 where they advocated for what most would call infanticide. The response to the article was widespread outrage and even death threats aimed at the two authors. I had heard of this concept recently and talked about it with a friend, after going back and forth we came to the conclusion that such a procedure should be legalized.

The fact of the matter is that children do not gain full bodily autonomy until the age of three, but it starts to develop near their first year. They do not have a will or a bigger meaning to their actions, all they want in their first few years of life are basic needs. Both a fetus and a newborn certainly are human beings and potential persons, but neither is a ‘person’ in the sense of ‘subject of a moral right to life. It has been estimated that a dog is as smart as a 2.5-year-old child, so their right to life is comparable to that of any dog. Euthanization of dogs is already widely accepted and perceived as an ethical practice by most, so why shouldn’t euthanization of newborns be allowed too?

Why would anyone go through with after-birth abortion? Obviously, it’d be mostly birth givers that had given birth to a child with birth defects. If they just wanted an abortion then they’d have gotten it sooner (unless of course the birth giver changes their mind about getting an abortion and it’s too late at that time). Euthanasia in infants has been proposed by philosophers for newborns born with severe physical abnormalities or degenerative conditions, and it is even a legal practice in the Netherlands. I think everyone can agree that a person born with a severe case of Down syndrome is going to have a significantly less fulfilling life than a newborn born healthy. A philosophical problem arises when the same conditions that would’ve justified abortion become known after birth. Is there any moral difference between aborting a fetus and aborting a newborn?

One of the most common counterarguments to after-birth abortion is the possibility of just placing the child in the foster-care system. The reliability of foster care varies from country to country but the people that will view this are most likely to live in the U.S. so I will use it as an example, this disregards that practice of this nature would likely take decades to be widely accepted here, considering that a sizable chunk of the U.S. population still thinks outlawing abortion is a good idea.

It is common knowledge that the U.S. foster care system is severely underfunded and leaves children traumatized. The number of children in foster care has continued to rise and there is a shortage of competent foster parents. States scramble to find places for children to live, and they are often crammed into small homes with lots of children. Psychology agrees that the more children there are in a home the less time the parents can spend fulfilling each of their needs. Thousands of children just end up in juvenile detention centers and shelters instead. Child welfare experts agree that the places aforementioned are the ultimate last resort for a child’s growing environment. The places they end up are not much better than the ones from which they were removed. Roughly half of the foster youth nationwide never graduate high school and even less than half are able to earn money from employment at any given time. One in five enter the homeless population and one in four will become involved with the criminal justice system within just two years after foster care. 21% of former foster youth are diagnosed with PTSD as opposed to 4% of the general adult population. This disregards the fact that a lot of foster youth are not given the opportunity to be diagnosed due to their economic conditions, and so the number is likely significantly higher than 21%. Now, take those statistics and conditions then apply them to someone with physical or degenerative birth conditions. I hope you now see that foster care is not a viable option, at least in the United States.

Knowing this, it’s not surprising that there are lots of cases of neonaticide, and the amount of mothers who commit the act far outweighs the number of fathers. Parents don’t want their child to live a life with a birth condition leading to endless suffering and restriction of life opportunities, so they just take matters into their own hands.

Of course, the hypothetical execution of this practice would require the permission of everyone involved. Both the mother and the father should be consulted as well as siblings and extended family, as a process like this can be traumatizing depending on the type of people that could be affected by it. However, if everyone related to the human specimen in question agrees that euthanasia is the best option they should have the means to go through with the procedure. Of course, the person euthanizing the newborn would need to be someone who can deal with any emotional consequences that could harm their mind. Humans naturally consider babies cute and have empathy for them, but in cases like these, everyone involved has actively advocated for euthanasia of the specimen in question. As stated before, it is no different than the euthanasia of a dog. A dog has the same intellectual capability as a 2.5-year-old baby, so the euthanasia of the newborn within 24 hours of birth can be argued to be even more moral than euthanasia of a dog. The only reasonable argument against it is the potential of life, which is really just a matter of time. A newly conceived human embryo has the same potential as a newborn. The only difference is the development it has gone through, which really isn’t anything special considering that most fully developed women are capable of giving birth.

While doing research for this article, I have found no captivating counterargument even though so many people are opposed to it. The only reasonable rebuttal was the adoption argument, but I have already debunked its practicality.  Most opposing articles I have read simply rely on ” they’re humans and deserve human rights” which I have also debunked previously in this essay, the newborn is not aware of its existence until 2 years later so consequentially it is not inhumane to euthanize it, regardless of perceived human rights. A lot of the articles are just conservative propaganda that doesn’t give a fair chance at the argument for after-birth abortion, usually along the lines of “Wow! Look what the dumb liberals are doing now!”. I have gone through countless opposing articles to try to find something that makes sense in an effort to give the opposing side a chance but it is simply impossible.

Thanks for reading my essay! I know the topic at hand is grim but I hope you got something out of it. I will end this with a quote from my friend after we debated this.

“In conclusion, I think I agree with you now that the harm we are avoiding by doing “after-birth abortion” is greater than any good we could offer letting the newborn live.”