The Corner

P.O.D. Criticism

Hey Ramesh, this is for you:

No, I haven’t read the book, but I did read this excerpt on The Corner which argues that support of abortion must logically lead to support of infanticide:

They are not correct about the justifiability of infanticide; but they are correct that if abortion is justified, so is infanticide. … It is easy, in advance, to imagine that our sensibilities will set limits on moral innovation. We will liberalize abortion laws, but only for the hard cases….We will create human embryos for the purpose of experiments, but only up to the fourteenth day of life….But crossing those limits is not so difficult once we have breached the principles that forbade all such actions. All it takes is a simple question: What’s the difference…? What changes at the fifteenth day? A Supreme Court justice may tell us one day that killing should be permitted until birth, and on another day forget why he once thought birth mattered.”

Ponnuru argues that anyone who draws the line of when abortion is acceptable at a place before birth other than conception (whether it be the fourteenth day, the first trimester, viability, …) is doing so arbitrarily without a moral basis. He has a valid point in my view. However, to extend that argument and say drawing the line at birth is also arbitrary – and thus support of any legal abortion requires support of infanticide – does not fly. There is a clear difference after birth, the fetus is no longer inside another person’s body impacting how that person wants to treat their body.

Nonetheless, Ponnuru’s point on the arbitrary pro-choice position that permits abortions through the first trimester is well taken. By its nature, the pro-choice position is fuzzy in its moral stance. It isn’t sure when personhood begins. In contrast, the pro-life position has the virtue of moral clarity. Any abortion or harvesting of stem cells after conception is the murder of a person. But, that clarity has a consequence that Ponnuru has yet to deal with: we should prosecute the mother with murder just as we prosecute a woman who hires a doctor to kill her teenage son (an analogy first offered by Michael Kinsley). So far, Ponnuru has argued we do not have to prosecute the mother. In the interest of saving life, it is only necessary to prosecute the doctor. OK, but that must imply we should only prosecute the doctor in the case of the teenage son. Is that what Ponnuru argues for? Does he seriously believe it is OK to not prosecute people when they hire doctors to commit murder for them? Or, is he arguing we should treat the two cases differently, in which case doesn’t that expose his own moral fuzziness about when personhood begins?

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