John Leo

Jill Stanek, one of the Christ Hospital nurses, said she retrieved a 10-inch, 21-week-old Down's syndrome baby from a soiled utility room and cradled and rocked him for the 45 minutes that he lived. One nurse, Stanek said, told her of an aborted baby who was supposed to have spina bifada but was delivered with an intact spine. Another 23-week-old baby, she said, "who showed signs of thriving, was merely wrapped in a blanket and kept in the labor and delivery department until she died 2 1/2 hours later."

Last year, Alberta Report magazine said that Foothills Hospital in Calgary, Alberta, was conducting two or three induction abortions a week, many of which result in live births. Afraid of losing their jobs but repelled by hospital policy, four nurses spoke out anonymously. All protested the killing of the unborn because they may be defective. One said that doctors are frequently wrong about diagnosing a serious mental or physical defect, but even when a baby is born apparently healthy, the doctors often choose to hide their mistakes and let the baby die.

Here's why the bill is more than a gambit in the abortion wars. We live at a time when the intellectual groundwork for the promotion of infanticide is already in place and spreading. Peter Singer at Princeton and other influential scholars around the country argue that birth is an arbitrary point for society to bestow personhood (and therefore constitutional protections). They want it later, so parents would have some time to decide whether to dispatch the baby or keep it. Jeffrey Reiman, philosophy professor at American University, thinks that infants do not "possess in their own right a property that makes it wrong to kill them."

In this growing climate, a slide toward casual euthanasia is possible, and viable babies born as the accidental result of abortions are more vulnerable than ever. Some abortionists routinely let these babies die on the ground that they were marked for extinction anyway. Some act on the belief that the mother's intent must govern. Others are simply unwilling to admit incompetence by telling a woman who came in for an abortion that she is now a mother.

The intent of the mother is something of a frontier for abortion supporters. It shifts attention away from the reality of the baby, already born with rights, and back toward the purpose of the operation -- to abort. Pro-choice literature is filled with suggestions that the developing life within a mother is an unborn baby if she wants it, simply discardable tissue if she doesn't.

The Supreme Court's decision striking down Nebraska's partial-birth abortion law has some hints that the intent governs. The 3rd Circuit's July 26 decision striking down New Jersey's partial-birth ban has stronger indications that what the mother means to do is more important than the position of the baby during the procedure (partly out, completely out).

All the more reason to draw the brightest line possible between abortion and homicide. The bill doesn't undermine Roe. Its point is just that you can't kill babies. Can't both sides of the abortion dispute agree on that?

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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