Why Doesn’t Everyone See Late-Term Abortions as Morally Wrong?

In the interest of trying to provide some moral clarity, I want to examine the type of abortion scenario for which it should be straightforward to morally assess. My thesis in this article is thus narrow in scope but still significant in that some pro-choice advocates take a strong stance that abortion is to never be restricted and is never morally wrong. If it can be shown that this view is mistaken it may awaken folks to more carefully examine other scenarios as well. Here is my simple argument:

  1. If it’s generally wrong to kill a newborn baby, then it’s wrong in many cases to kill a full-term baby.[1]
  2. It’s wrong to kill a newborn baby.

Thus, it’s wrong in many cases to kill a full-term baby in the womb.

I’ll not be arguing for premise 2 as I’m interested here only in convincing those who already believe it’s wrong to kill newborn babies. I’m not trying to assess all possible cases of abortion but am merely wanting to examine whether or not it’s morally permissible to kill a baby that is fully matured but still in the womb. Also, my thesis deals merely with morality – it’s a separate question how this impacts laws.

Consider that many babies are born prematurely and yet have no adverse long-term health impacts. So if one thinks that it’s morally wrong to kill a baby that has been born say a month or so prematurely why think it’s morally permissible to kill an unborn human baby that is has developed for 40 weeks? In this scenario both babies are healthy and were not the product of rape or incest and were born into or would be born into reasonably loving families.[2]

Many arguments by pro-choice advocates fail in this scenario. For example, some claim that the life of the unborn is not worth protecting because it’s smaller or less well developed than humans that have been born. My youngest son Kevin was 10 pounds 6 ounces at birth and my wife’s labor was medically induced. He definitely stood out in the nursery at the hospital – the song “one of these things is not like the others” comes to mind. So when my wife went into the hospital that morning, would it have been wrong to kill Kevin? There are plenty of “preemie” babies that are probably healthy enough now that had a birth weight a small fraction of what Kevin weighed while in the womb. Was it really morally justified to kill my son Kevin just before birth but would be considered murder to kill one of the babies in the neonatal intensive care unit? Was Kevin less of a human person than a baby already born just because he hadn’t traveled a half foot down the birth canal? Is there anything developmentally that happens in the last minutes of pregnancy or during delivery that suddenly endows the baby with self-awareness or cognitive abilities sufficient to go from no protection of life to full protection. It should concern pro-choice advocates that their arguments that the unborn lack attributes worthy of protection seem to apply equally well to toddlers or adults in a coma, etc. In this scenario unborn Kevin was more developmentally advanced and certainly much larger than preemie babies.

What about the mother? Does her right over her body trump the rights of the baby inside of her? Isn’t it the case scientifically that mother and fetus are distinct organisms anyway? A pregnant lady is not four-legged. In this scenario I’ve proposed note that the Mom has already carried the baby to full-term and endured most of the sacrifices that pregnancy entails. She can deliver the baby and deliver it up for adoption and be at least as well off as if she had to recover from surgically aborting a full-term baby. Are there negative impacts to the Mom from delivering the baby sufficient to override the rights of the baby to live? If the mother decides to keep the baby, isn’t it possible that the child becomes a treasure and joy to the mother? Isn’t there a maternal instinct to protect one’s offspring that may have negative impacts emotionally on the mother if she ends the life of her child?[3] Science supports the notion that mothers generally have strong desires to protect their babies – it would be surprising if there were no negative psychological impacts on Mom to end the life of her full-term baby.

My final question to those who advocate abortion without restrictions[4] – do you really think it would have been morally acceptable for your Mom to kill you minutes before you were born? Do you really want to encourage a moral principle that would have so prematurely ended your own existence?

____________________________________________________

[1] I say ‘generally’ wrong to avoid controversial scenarios – e.g. the only way to stop a terrorist from detonating a nuke that will kill a million people would somehow necessitate the death of an infant. Likewise I say ‘wrong in many cases’ because I want to examine only whether or not there are ‘some’ cases where abortion is immoral.

[2]This is not a merely hypothetical scenario since 7 states and the District of Colombia allow abortions at any time during pregnancy and without restrictions.

[3] Whether this instinct is put there by God and/or evolution is irrelevant to my argument. Certainly natural selection favors whatever encourages mothers to preserve the lives of their offspring.

[4 One should not infer that I favor abortion just because I’m choosing to examine a specific scenario in this blog.

Free CrossExamined.org Resource

Get the first chapter of "Stealing From God: Why Atheists Need God to Make Their Case" in PDF.

Powered by ConvertKit
16 replies
  1. Corey says:

    I agree. There is no difference between a baby that is 5 minutes from being born and a baby that was born 5 minutes ago. Somewhere, somehow they have created the argument that one’s right to life only exists after one has been born, which is ironic considering that life begins at conception. When life begins, the rights to life begin.
    The rights of a baby are equal to that of its mother. Let’s say the mother is 30 years old, the fact that she is older than the child does not make her rights greater than that of the child’s.
    We can conclude that life begins at conception, and like I said before, when life begins, so do the rights. We as human beings have no right overrule the rights of another just because that person is unable to claim their rights and/or defend themselves.
    We simply cannot kill a child because it is inconvenient to us, just as much as a full grown adult cannot kill another full grown adult because they are an inconvenience to them, that is murder and so is abortion, regardless of what stage.
    The Bible says ‘You shall not murder’. Taking an innocent life is murder and since life begins at conception, abortion is clearly murder.
    God blessed Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply. Bearing children is a blessing not a curse, or an inconvenience. Since it is a blessing, we ought to respect it and thank God for it. Since it is a blessing, we ought to never consider it to be an inconvenience or some ‘problem’ that we need to ‘take care of’.
    Abortion is wrong on every level and the circumstances behind the pregnancy does not change the fact that it is a human being that has just as much a right to live as any one of us.

    Reply
  2. Andy Ryan says:

    “Do you really think it would have been morally acceptable for your Mom to kill you minutes before you were born? Do you really want to encourage a moral principle that would have so prematurely ended your own existence?”

    I’m not sure the second sentence is necessarily relevant – for example, someone who was the product of rape may well believe rape is immoral and should be prevented, despite the fact that preventing all rape would have stopped them ever being conceived in the first place.

    “I say ‘generally’ wrong to avoid controversial scenarios”

    Would you include as a ‘controversial scenario’ if the baby is going to die during the birth anyway, and the only way of saving the mother is to abort before the birth? Would you include that as at least one case when abortion is morally right?

    “If the mother decides to keep the baby, isn’t it possible that the child becomes a treasure and joy to the mother? ”

    It depends on the reasons she had for considering abortion in the first place, but in many cases yes it is possible. However, it’s also possible that keeping that baby means the mother doesn’t go on to have another child that would also have become a treasure and joy to her.

    Reply
    • Allen Hainline says:

      Thanks for the comments Andy. I personally do think the scenario you outlined is one in which abortion is morally right (if you know the baby will die anyway and you know the Mom would die unless she aborted the baby) – the pro-lifers I know would agree since actually this is the course of action that best preserves life in this scenario.

      Do you agree in the scenario I outlined (remember neither pregnancy arose out of rape and no special mitigating circumstances that might make it more controversial) that the moral course of action is not to abort the full-term baby? If not, why not and how would your line of thinking still allow for it to be morally wrong to kill the preemie infant?

      Reply
      • Andy Ryan says:

        ” the pro-lifers I know would agree since actually this is the course of action that best preserves life in this scenario”

        I’m glad you think so. A woman died last year in Ireland under these circumstances because the very anti-abortion hospitals in that country refused to perform the life-saving operation.

        I agree with you that it would be immoral to otherwise abort a baby that was that close to full-term. If the mother was desperate not to take care of the child then she should put it up for adoption.

        Reply
  3. Louie says:

    Allen:
    The headline of your article is poor. It reads as though it is a rarity that an abortion would be morally wrong. Based on what I’ve read, most abortions are not required to save the mothers life. Most are just trying to avoid responsibility for a poor decision. A very safe estimate is over 3000 abortions per day occur in the US alone, there is no way that even half of those are saving the mothers life. I know of several people still walking around today, that were born at 5 months. That is pretty mirculous for a glob of tissue.

    Reply
    • Andy Ryan says:

      “Based on what I’ve read, most abortions are not required to save the mothers life”
      One could equally say that most abortions are not performed in the last few days of the pregnancy. In fact I’m pretty sure that virtually the only time such abortions happen is indeed to save the mother’s life.

      “Most are just trying to avoid responsibility for a poor decision”

      I’d like to see a cite for that claim. Most? How wide is your remit for what constitutes a ‘poor decision’? If a couple plan to have a child, conceive, and then the father immediately bails, does that retrospectively make the woman conceiving a ‘poor decision’?

      Reply
      • Louie says:

        In FACT you are PRETTY SURE that VIRTUALLY every… That sounds like political talk.
        Yes, she should avoid killing the child if the husband leaves, whether born or unborn.

        Reply
        • Andy Ryan says:

          “That sounds like political talk.”

          No more vague than you saying: “there is no way that even half of those are saving the mothers life”. Do you have stats to contradict me?

          “Yes, she should avoid killing the child if the husband leaves”

          That’s not what I asked Louie. I’ll try again: “If a couple plan to have a child, conceive, and then the father immediately bails, does that retrospectively make the woman conceiving a ‘poor decision’?”

          Reply
          • Louie says:

            I can’t have actual stats on that, since certain states will not offer data on that topic. So, any stat I’d use would be fluffy. I am only able to draw conclusions from the culmination of what I see and hear, same as you.

            Not the conception. The poor decision of marrying someone that shallow took place before that event.

          • Andy Ryan says:

            You can’t blame every person who marries and then discovers their partner changes. You too easily dismiss others for ‘poor decisions’ just as you too quickly claim I’m giving you ‘political talk’.

            I’m lucky with my wife, but I don’t pat myself on the back for my ‘great decision’. Too many marriages end in divorce for us to say all divorcees must have made very poor decisions.

      • Louie says:

        I missed the part where you wanted a cite for the claim of “Most”. Last I looked into this (2012) 80% of US abortions (2400/day) are by single women over 22 years old. I’m sure there are some unfortnate circumstances making up that 80%, but I bet it isn’t anywhere close to half.

        Reply
        • Andy Ryan says:

          “Last I looked into this (2012) 80% of US abortions (2400/day) are by single women over 22 years old.”

          So?

          “I bet it isn’t anywhere close to half”

          You BET? That sounds like political talk!

          “EVERY and ALL are your words, not mine”

          You said MOST. If you want to replace ‘EVERY’ and ‘ALL’ with ‘most’ then go ahead. Other than that, I stand by the words I used too.

          Reply
          • Louie says:

            That 80% stat was backing up the statement I made about most abortions being due to poor decisions. Call me old school, but if you are single and having an abortion, then I file that as the result of a poor decision.

  4. Todd says:

    Some of the worst decisions in history have been made when people decide for themselves what human life is. In the 1930’s the Nazis called the Jews subhuman. What if the German people had stood up and said to the Nazis: you can persecute the Jews as much as you want, but first you need to prove to us, beyond any reasonable doubt, that they are subhuman? The German people would not have to look any further than a German Jew named Albert Einstein, a genius by any human standard, to know that the Nazi propaganda was a lie.
    What about the Dread Scott case where the Supreme Court said that blacks are not human?
    Why do we as Christians, fail to put the burden of proof on the other side to prove that a child in the womb is not a human being?

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *