Partial-Birth Abortion Is Not about Abortion

Gregory Koukl
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Posted: Apr 06, 2007 2:05 PM
Partial-Birth Abortion Is Not about Abortion

When we justify the killing of a fully human child because of severe, congenital defect, we are not making a case for abortion; we're promoting something much more chilling.

Partial-term Abortion Is Not about Abortion.

If there is no good reason to allow partial-birth abortion, then why the intense resistance? Why the repeated challenges to a Federal ban on these procedures? Why do so many--mothers, doctors, Senators, members of Congress--accept such bad reasons for this barbaric practice? Rudy Giuliani's recent comments suggest that he's changed his previous position that he "would vote to preserve the option for women." The Supreme Court will hand down its decision within weeks on a federal law banning partial-birth abortion. Have they finally recognized that nothing justifies killing a baby partially born that can simply be delivered completely?

As I turned this question over in my mind, I realized why people don't see the obvious. They misunderstand this procedure—partial-birth abortion, D&X abortion--because of one very misleading term: abortion.

Abortion is sacred to many in this country. "Abortion is a woman's Constitutional right, therefore all abortions must be defended," we hear. "Make one type of abortion illegal and the dominoes begin to fall," others warn.

There's a problem, though. Simply calling a procedure an abortion doesn't make it one. A thing is what it is, regardless of the name used for it. Language may change perception, but it doesn't change the thing itself.

An abortion is what happens to a child within the womb of its mother. This is clear from every court case dealing with the issue. In partial-birth abortion, however, the delivery is 85% complete. The child is not on the inside of its mother when it's killed; it's on the outside.

If partial-birth abortion is not really an abortion, then what is it? Let me ask a question. What is it called when a newborn child is killed outside the womb? It's not called an abortion; it's called infanticide. The chilling truth is this: Partial-birth abortion is not really abortion; it's infanticide. It's the killing of an innocent human child outside his mother's body, often solely because of the baby's handicap.

Slipping Down the Slope

People often dismiss slippery slope arguments as overstatements. Ethics, however, makes a distinction between two kinds of slippery slopes. The "causal slippery slope" is like a line of dominoes falling. An action that might be morally benign in itself, leads to something else that's immoral, casting a shadow on the first. For example, if pornography causes violence against women, then pornography may be morally suspect. This is the kind that is often overstated.

The second is called a "logical slippery slope." When one thing is immoral, and a second is logically similar in a morally relevant way, the moral quality of the one slips over into the other. Murder is immoral, and some think capital punishment is similar enough to murder to make capital punishment immoral too. A logical slippery slope can slip in either direction. If you have a morally acceptable thing, and something else is logically similar to it, then arguably the second thing becomes morally acceptable, too.

The validity of a logical slippery slope depends on the similarity of the two things being compared. This is why I think the word "abortion" is misleading in "partial-birth abortion." The differences between this procedure and infanticide are only a few inches of physical location and a few seconds from officially recognized birth. What is the moral distinction between a born baby and a baby with only its head left in the birth canal because the birth has been stopped?

The Real Reason

The partial-birth abortion question places America at a critical juncture in the sanctity of life debate. Which way will we slide?

When you start with the view that abortion is a sacred right, then by reason of a logical slippery slope, you must argue for anything called abortion. "All abortions ought to be legal. D&X is an abortion. Therefore, D&X ought to be legal, too." Slide a bit further and it looks like this: "If partial-birth abortion is moral, and partial-birth abortion is essentially the same as infanticide, then infanticide must be moral, too."

We could, however, regain our moral sanity and slide the other way. If this atrocity is made illegal, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the very same thing is happening out of sight inside the womb in every late-term abortion. If the first is morally grotesque and illegal, then the second is grotesque and should be illegal, too.

Pro-abortionists know this, and that's why they're fighting so hard against the federal ban. They want freedom of choice at any cost, regardless of the moral consequences. When they raise the alarm, "This is the first step towards making all abortions illegal!" we finally have their real objection to the federal ban.

It's a legitimate fear. Once one realizes D&X abortions are clearly immoral, it's going to be hard to justify any late-term abortion. On the other hand, if it's clear that a living human child is being butchered, yet D&X remains legal simply because abortion is legal, then even the hardiest libertarians should realize there's something terribly wrong with the current state of abortion law.

No Clear Moral Intuitions

The question we now face is, "Which way will we slip?"

Will the Supreme Court, will Rudy Giuliani admit that there are no good reasons for partial-birth abortion? Will we admit D&X is really infanticide by another name? Will we then recognize that any late-term abortion under cover of the mother's womb is enough like D&X to be immoral, too? If partial-birth abortion is

de facto infanticide, what meaningful moral distinction is there between infanticide and any other late-term abortion? They all destroy a little human being.

Or will we slide the other way? Will the public, will the courts admit that pro-lifers are right that partial-birth abortions are virtual infanticide, but then conclude that since abortion is moral--and here we slip the other way--then infanticide must be moral, too? Some have already proposed this.

We can go either way. That's why we're at such a critical juncture.