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A Reformed Fellowship

Abortion or murder? A distinction without a difference

If a woman takes her child’s life after he is born, it is murder and she can be prosecuted. If she has her child’s life taken by a certain point after conception, then it is a legal abortion and she is defended for having exercised her “right to choose.”

Check out this report from foxnews.com:

A British student has been accused of suffocating her newborn son while on vacation with her sister and girlfriends in Crete, The U.K.’s Daily Mail reported.

Leah Andrew, 20, allegedly gave birth to the boy–5lbs 8ounces–in a hotel room and then killed him afterward. His body was reportedly wrapped in a towl, according to The Mail.

Andrew was vacationing with her sister Lydia, 24, and a group of friends who were unaware of her pregnancy. According to The Mail, Andrew went out the night before, but later complained of stomach pains. Her friends later found her bleeding heavily in the hotel room, The Mail said.

Andrew reportedly told police the baby was stillborn and was wrapped in a towel because she believed he was cold. A Greek coroner disagreed however, arguing that the child had been born healthy but had been suffocated, The Mail reported.

According to The Mail, Andrew, who has two other children, may face up to 20 years if convicted.

What many people refuse to recognize is that we are dealing with a distinction without a difference. The child is dead, regardless of when his life is taken. People are appalled that a young woman may have intentionally suffocated her child. People yawn if the child’s life is taken prior to birth by an abortionist.

Only a barbaric people would claim that it’s ethical to take a child’s life prior to birth. Only a hypocrite would condemn the woman who suffocates her born child while exonerating the woman who ends the life of her child via a legal abortion.


  1. There is a difference – the umbilical cord has been cut. Now this may not seem like it is morally significant, but for those who argue that a child does not have the right to use the mother’s body without her consent (or, that a woman may control her own body and who uses it), it is a very important distinction. As soon as the child is no longer attached to the mother’s body, that argument no longer works.

  2. Thanks for commenting, Joshua. I maintain, though, that the attached or severed umbilical cord is not germane to the argument. To argue that “a child does not have the right to use the mother’s body without her consent” is illogical. The child is no invading creature from outside the mother. Rather, the child is a being who would not have been there had his mother not engaged in sexual intercourse. She has very much to do with the child’s being there.

    Also, “that a woman may control her own body and [control] who uses it” is also illogical. Again, once she has engaged in an activity which by its very nature can produce a being to dwell for a time within her body, she has voluntarily entered into a covenant to share her body.

    You did not say these were your arguments, but I am curious: if the attached umbilical cord creates a distinction, would you argue in favor of abortion up to the time of birth?


  3. Those are not my arguments, true. If I were to defend them from your criticisms, I’d say that consent to sex is not necessarily consent to pregnancy (in the same way that eating pork is not consent to be host to tapeworm). And I do believe that many who use this argument would argue in favour of abortion up to the point of birth, but as I said I am not one of them.

    That said, I must point out that I do agree with that conclusion – that late-term abortion can be morally acceptable – but I do not agree with their reasoning. To me, one’s dependence on another for life is irrelevant. I find infanticide to be no more morally troubling than abortion (just as I see no moral difference between killing a worm outside my body and killing one which is inside my body). My logic rests on the (lack of) rights of the foetus, not the rights of the mother.

  4. If I understand you correctly, Joshua, you believe that neither the unborn child nor the infant child has an inherent right to life, that is, a right to life by virtue of one’s being human. What about a five-year-old child—does that child have an inherent right to life? What about the child’s mother, does she have an inherent right to life? The direction of your logic, unless I’m misreading you, is that no one has an inherent right to life—unborn or born, young or old. It could be that I am misunderstanding you.

    If not, then who decides, those who are more powerful? If one holds to such a view, can one condemn Hitler and the holocaust? From your perspective, are there any moral issues involved?


  5. Ah, sorry. It’s not that you are misunderstanding me, but rather that I was too vague.

    I believe our disagreement rests on the fact that I do not believe, as you do, that a right to life is given “by virtue of one’s being human”. I do not think being a member of a group (be it a race, a gender or a species) is a relevant moral characteristic of an individual.

    I do, however, think individual abilities, namely the ability to value one’s own life, is a very relevant moral characteristic. If someone, or something, can value their/its own life, then their/its life is inherently valuable (i.e. valuable for their/its own sake), and therefore should be afforded the right to life. Although it is arguable precisely when this ability is obtained, one can be almost certain that a five-year old human child and a twenty-five year old human mother have this ability (assuming normal mental capabilities), and that neither a foetus nor a neonate do. Thus, because Leah’s baby boy was not yet able to be aware of his own life, nor was able to value it, then we are left only his extrinsic value (i.e. was the child valuable to his mother and father).

    A few months ago, I expanded on this view on my blog (http://hplusbiopolitics.wordpress.com/2008/05/26/of-persons-robot-aliens-and-humans/)

  6. Thanks, Joshua, for the link to your blog. I understand your reasoning, though I obviously take issue with it.

    Because I do believe in God and because I believe that humans are created in the image of God (they possess intelligence, volition, emotions, etc.), there is an inherent dignity and significance by virtue of being human. Consequently, human life is to be preserved, regardless of the individual human’s ability to value his or her own life. Therefore, I would seek to protect the unborn child and the infant and the one suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

    It seems to me that a human’s ability to value his or her life is a useful understanding for the species in general to be considered persons. However, I would argue that, by extension, those humans not yet possessing such an awareness should be protected because they are of those who do possess that awareness. Otherwise, matters get pretty fuzzy and can go down the slippery slope of the arbitrary. For instance, Hitler could be justified by claiming that Jews did not really have the ability to value their own lives any more than a dog seeks to escape a fire, that they were merely acting out of an instinct for self-preservation.

    Are you aware of the existence of any society or culture that has based its judgment of the right to live on your perception of personhood? How does your view not justify someone like a Hitler? Why wouldn’t the bottom line become “might makes right”?


  7. On the faith issue, I cannot comment. In addition, I think it may be dangerous to impose a religiously-based morality on other people. To punish another for not following your own beliefs is perilously close to religious persecution (in fact, close to how Hitler behaved towards the Jews).

    Treating an individual based upon the characteristics of other members of the individual’s group seems to be the very definition of prejudice. I believe I refuted that quite nicely on my blog.

    Finally, if a modern-day Hitler claims that an individual or group does not have capability to value their own life (or lives), then that claim would need scientific evidence to back it up. Might has nothing to do with it – reality does. You can’t justify your actions with faith, nor anything you make up on the spot, but you can justify actions with evidence. If you do kill a Jew, and the ethical system I describe was enforceable, then you’d better be able to show beyond a reasonable doubt that you did not kill somebody who valued their own life.

  8. If I had my way (which neither of us obviously does), then it would be illegal to end the life of an unborn child. Is that imposing a religious belief? I’m sure you recognize that many secularists believe taking the life of an unborn child is wrong. However, according to your concern about the imposition of one’s religious views, would you not have to argue that the outlawing of infanticide is also the “imposition” of one’s religious views? Does it not follow, according to the thread of your thinking, that incarcerating Leah Andrews for killing her infant is “perilously close to religious persecution (in fact, close to how Hitler behaved towards the Jews)”? Obviously, I think Leah Andrews has committed murder and you think she did not.

    Second, to determine the criterion for personhood as one’s ability to value his own life strikes me as quite capricious and inhumane. I suspect that most people would react similarly, especially concerning infanticide. You have to admit that your views are very radical. Is that not why you remain anonymous?

    Third, to claim that “treating an individual based upon the characteristics of other members of the individual’s group seems to be the very definition of prejudice” is nonsensical, with all due respect. It is only logical to treat an individual as having the characteristics of the whole. That is the way humans have always treated other humans, is it not? Humans have consistently condemned those who have practiced infanticide and lauded those who defended the defenseless. Do you have historical evidence to the contrary?

    Last, what’s the possibility that your ethical system will ever be enforced? I suspect the only way it would be enforced is by a Stalin-like figure who has the might to enforce it. Your system runs counter to the general perception of right and wrong throughout history, would you not agree? It may work well in a theoretical treatise within the halls of academia, but, enforced in a real world situation, it will encounter the scorn of all but the most savage, regardless of how elite they deem themselves to be.


  9. I have no issue with outlawing abortion, provided such laws can be defended in secular terms. Likewise, although I think that Leah Andrews did nothing wrong, she still broke a law that is in place for secular reasons (albeit reasons that are, in my opinion, misguided). I don’t really see any person’s faith being imposed.

    I have not talked at length about the reason behind this criteria (for that, read John Harris’s book The Value of Life). Suffice it to say that I can see nothing inherently wrong with death except for being forced into it when you don’t want to die.

    Your third point is quite amazing. That humans have always treated people that way shows only that humans are prejudicial, not that such treatment is acceptable. It wouldn’t be acceptable to ban all elderly people from driving simply because they are of a group that has vision problems – some elderly people may have good vision. It wouldn’t be acceptable to ban women from a career in engineering simply because they are of a group that doesn’t perform as well in mathematics – some women may be talented at engineering. In the same vein, it is not acceptable to say that all humans have a right to life because they are of a group that usually does – some humans may not have such rights.

    Infanticide has been acceptable in many ancient cultures (Rome, Greece, Japan and India, to name but a few), but certainly not many modern ones.

    I do not agree that what I am describing is against general perceptions of right and wrong, nor that it would require totalitarian rule to enforce it. It seems likely that an ethical system such as I’m describing will only be enforced through a gradual shift towards utilitarian ethics. Such a shift may be most likely to occur in science and medicine, and is much more likely to occur in Western Europe or Asia. It may seem contrary to the gut reactions of some (or indeed, most), but the gut is notoriously inaccurate in morality (e.g. gut reactions kept miscegenation and women’s suffrage illegal for many years).

  10. You are quite right that certain ancient cultures practiced infanticide. You are probably also aware that Christians in Rome elicited quite a bit of sympathy because of their rescuing infants left to die. Was infanticide deemed virtuous in those cultures where it took place? I don’t think it was.

    Joshua, you must understand that justifying infanticide, not to mention abortion, strikes me as inhumane. These little ones have no voice, no defender. Only because someone is mightier are they prohibited from growing to have that voice and the ability to defend their right to life. You find nothing wrong in what Leah Andrew did. I find that incredible. Leah Andrew was simply mightier than her infant child.

    You may find my pointing to the general consensus of history as “quite amazing.” Has a general consensus been shown to be wrong at times? Obviously. Still, I find that throwing the metaphorical baby out with the bath water unpersuasive (no pun intended!). There is a reason why the general consensus of humanity has opposed infanticide. It is because it is almost universally deemed virtuous to protect the unprotected among us. It is not a little cavalier to dismiss it as being merely “prejudicial” in my opinion.

    My pointing to the general consensus of history was to point out how radical your position is. You recognize that by remaining anonymous, correct? You also concede that modern civilization prohibits infanticide. Why is infanticide almost universally prohibited, indeed much more prohibited than it was in some ancient cultures? Has humanity now become more prejudicial than our ancestors?

    All elderly should have the right to take and pass a driver’s test, all women should have the right to enter engineering school, and all unborn and born children should have the right to life. You illustrations aid rather than counter my position.

    I’m not a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I really think the ethical shift you anticipate will not occur. It may gain greater traction in academia, but it will prove too contrary to what is generally deemed acceptable to become the norm.

    Let me speak practically. It seems to me that the driving motivation most of the time for abortion and infanticide is merely selfishness. Adults simply don’t want to have to deal with children–children put a crimp on their liberty and finances. I speak from experience and long observation, being firmly ensconced in my sixth decade of living after somehow escaping both abortion and infanticide! I’m not allowed the luxury of esoteric meanderings of academia, though I’ve spent plenty of time there, because I have to deal with the not-so-pleasant problems of real people living real lives and experiencing real problems. My wife and I have three adult daughters, daughters that indeed required a great deal of sacrifice on our part. They cost us much money and time, but they were our children, and a necessary aspect of humanity is the rearing of one’s children. Killing one’s child is simply sub-human. I suspect your parents would agree, Joshua.

    By the way, I find it ironic you’ve taken the appellation “Joshua.” Coming from the Hebrew, it means “Yahweh is salvation,” or “God rescues.” It is the equivalent of the Greek word from which we get the English “Jesus.” Ironic, yes?


  11. Yes, my parents would disagree. They are a lot like you – people of faith (hence my real name being biblical).

    I never implied that infanticide, nor abortion, is virtuous. In almost all circumstances, it is not something I’d like to see. But I remain pro-choice on the matter, because I don’t see it as being so terrible as to require prohibition.

    There is certainly a reason why infanticide is not considered a virtuous act. From an evolutionary point of view, any individual or group that thought that way would not have as many children. It takes harsh circumstances to override the maternal instinct to protect the child (in all mammals/birds capable of that instinct, not just humans), which is why I would leave the decision up to the mother.

    As for those illustrations that you twisted somewhat to suit your view, you have obviously missed the point. The right to drive depends on individual ability (and group properties are irrelevant), getting into engineering school requires individual ability (and group properties are irrelevant) and the right to life requires individual ability (with group properties being…yep, irrelevant). It is just plain irrational prejudice to judge an individual based on the group to which they belong and not look at the individual’s properties – regardless of the group being species, gender, race, age and regardless of the property in question being a right to life, a right to vote or a right to an education.

    This is why I have argued for the right to life for other great apes (and artificial intelligences and aliens). Species is as irrelevant as any other group designation.

  12. Joshua, I really appreciate your interaction. You and I fundamentally disagree on whether humans without the knowledge of their own value (e.g. unborn children, infants, patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease) are actually persons. I suspect we’re not going to convince the other.

    On the point of my initial blog post, however, you have helped prove my point, and for that I am grateful. You disagree with my characterization that either abortion or infanticide is murder, but you agree that they are equal. You, at least, are being consistent, which is more than I can say for most holding to a pro-choice position on abortion. While at variance with you, I am also consistent in that I think both abortion and infanticide an unwarranted and immoral taking of life.

    While I think your position is wrong and dangerous, I have more respect for you than for the mass of people who claim abortion is ethical and infanticide is unethical. I think their position is philosophically challenged, logically untenable, and intellectually dishonest.


  13. Just to clarify, I didn’t say they (abortion and infanticide) were equal. They are different, but the differences are not morally significant – in my opinion (and yours too, by the looks).

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