Let me set the scene: A husband and a wife have had 15 failed pregnancies and in vitro fertilization non-starters. Author Alex Kuczynski, a fine writer, comes perilously close to falling off the cliff when she describes a "fetus" that didn't make it past 10 weeks as "a small dead baby" and quotes a nurse as telling her, "In case you were interested, it was a girl." But she quickly regains her footing and writes, "I was not, in fact, interested in attaching a gender to the coagulation of cells, briefly and potentially human. . . ."
A month later Kuczynski is sitting with her baby on her back porch in the Hamptons. She wonders whether she has, in a sense, cheated to have him. Here's the offending section: "My husband came out and sat next to me. He took my hand. 'You gave birth to our baby,' he told me. 'The doctors went in and took our baby out of you 10 months ago.' He was casting back to the day the doctor removed my eggs. 'It was like a C-section. They just went in and got him when he was very small.'"
Excuse me? Technically the husband is incorrect, in that what doctors removed from his wife was an egg that had not yet encountered a paternal sperm. But his poetic wisdom is solid: It was like a C-section bringing out a tiny baby. And if that's the way it is, then maybe we shouldn't be cavalier about killing small creatures for embryonic stem-cell research, especially when scientists have discovered that adult stem cells are as likely (maybe more so) to work well in healing some sicknesses. Maybe we shouldn't think of a 10-week-old unborn child as merely a potentially human coagulation of cells. Maybe we shouldn't have legal abortion of older coagulations.
Two positions on abortion are logically consistent. One states, with biblical objectivity, that the killing of small human beings, whether born or unborn, should be illegal. The other, as espoused by Princeton's Peter Singer and others, is subjective: Small human beings dependent on others gain rights only as their needed protectors give them. This means that not only abortion but infanticide up to toddler stage should be legal (see "Blue State Philosopher").
This is not to say that Americans can't come at least temporarily to an illogical middle position. Most Europeans have. In France, for example, abortion during the first 10 weeks is legal but discouraged; after that time, sharp restrictions set in. If the Supreme Court hadn't in Roe v. Wade gone to the extreme of legalizing abortion through all nine months of pregnancy for any reason, we'd now have laws that allow for some abortion but do not freeze us into Court-dictated subjectivity.
Subjectivity: Right now killing an unborn child with the consent of the mother is legal in all 50 states—but in at least 35 states it is murder if a father or anyone else kills that child without the mother's consent. In other words, our law is based on the idea that unborn children do not objectively have value unless they are recognized as children by their mothers. Do we really believe that?
Singer predicts that by the year 2040 "only a rump of hard-core, know-nothing religious fundamentalists will defend the view that every human life, from conception to death, is sacrosanct." Maybe, but The New York Times must keep up its guard if we are to achieve that utopia.