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Infanticide Debate Reflects a New Era for Abortion Politics 2

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When addressing infanticide, it is possible to oversimplify the argument and fail to acknowledge the complexities that arise for many women. But we can also remain clear-eyed about the stakes and ask: What do we owe “severely deformed” infants who may be viable outside the womb, when those infants are unwanted by their mothers and born against the will of the doctors?

Such a question, in all its brutal starkness, draws out why these bills sanction infanticide and why pro-choice activists struggle to support efforts to protect the rights of infants born alive through abortion.

Infanticide does not only include the direct killing of infants, through injecting toxins or other direct means of harm. It also means unjustly denying infants necessary life support. The key term is unjust: not every decision to decline life-sustaining treatment for those in our care is the equivalent of killing.

Neonatal ethics are exceedingly complex, but for infants whose death will follow immediately upon their birth and we have strong reason to believe attempts to prolong life would fail, comfort may be all that can be given. The end of life sometimes does sometimes arise at its beginning. Excruciating as it is, we must sometimes allow those we love to go into the hands of God, even when they have just arrived to us.

But context matters, and we can let them go into God’s hands only by showing honor and respect for the life that God has entrusted to us. Killing or denying necessary treatment because of the burdens such a life might impose intrinsically fails to do so.

There must be an exceptionally high threshold to justify declining medical care for infants, as they are exceedingly vulnerable. But we should be even more skeptical about decisions to decline treatments when the people deciding are the ones who previously intended the infant’s death.

If third-term abortions are legal, it is difficult to say why doctors are morally obligated to provide life-sustaining care to infants who are at the same stage of development. Why should a doctor who was responsible one minute for terminating an infant’s life be obligated to save it the next? What forms the difference, really, between an infant at 28 weeks who is still inside the womb and one who is now outside? It is easy to see how the 21st-century equivalent of the Roman practice of “exposure” takes form through the dulcet, sonorous tones of “compassion.”


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