Born Alive

I often disagree with the pro-life hardliners around the bloggernacle. But the relatively recent Florida infanticide in the news lately — according to the news stories I’ve seen, there is not a lot of dispute as to the facts — is something everybody should agree on.

Some readers are opposed to abortion in most or all cases, but for those who are not, the only reasonable arguments for abortion rights center around the freedom and autonomy of the mother. Once a child is delivered, there is no question. Infanticide is never acceptable.

Pro-choice progressives should be more vocal in denouncing this infanticide. It’s a shame that the pro-life crowd have been the only folks complaining about this incident. Yes, some conservative commenters are using the incident to make broader critiques of abortion. But that’s no reason why progressive pro-choicers should not be vocally denouncing the infanticide and calling for punishment of the doctor, as well as safeguards against this kind of thing happening again.


  1. Kaimi, kudos for offering this advice to your fellow progressives. What a horrible story.

  2. This is the first I’ve heard of this case. It’s deplorable and indefensible.

  3. I am not sure I understand the clarity here, even though I am no fan of abortion. A likely non-viable fetus is delivered and makes an uncertain number of agonal respirations, so the possibly confused memory of a teenager as to the disposition of fetal remains constitutes infanticide? I think in the interests of communication rather than grandstanding, terms like confused or frightening or poorly managed abortion would more accurately portray the situation than infanticide. None of the sources you cite provide detail necessary for informed debate.

    This case could serve as a useful discussion point for informed ethical debate, but characterizing it as infanticide a priori will prevent any meaningful discussion.

  4. What kind of safeguards would you propose? Perhaps you could require abortionists to live adjacent to their clinics, to minimize the risks of traffic delays. As we all know, just a few minutes can mean the difference between a surgical procedure and a murder.

  5. Adam Greenwood says:

    I guess meaningful discussion covers a multitude of sins.

    KW, thanks for posting this.

  6. “A likely non-viable fetus is delivered . . .”

    At that point, the question of viability and everything else ends. There is a live human being, who has certain legal rights. (And the mother’s right to abortion, for a fetus in her body, are no longer a consideration.)

    Likelihood of survival is not an excuse for simply dropping the infant in a bag. When a living patient arrives in an emergency room with a critical wound, does the doctor shrug and say, “likely not viable — put him in a bag”?

  7. There is a thoughtful discussion of this truly awful case over on the “Get Religion” blog for religious journalists, where they discuss exactly what word to use in describing what happened here, and noting – just as you say Kaimi – that people on all sides of the abortion debate agree that what happened in that clinic that day was wrong, wrong, wrong.

  8. Hey! Found this blog hopping over from the Clobberblog!

    On this particular topic, as a proponent of the pro-choice movement, I find this entire incident deplorable. This WAS a live human being who attempted to breathe, and born alive deserved the fighting chance. Once the baby is born, it’s obviously too late to call that an abortion! Pro-choice groups should openly berate this sort of practice, as it goes against the idea of CHOICE. There were two living beings here, and one of them just got suffocated instead of any hope.

  9. This is why I love you, Laura.

    In a platonic way. *wink wink*

  10. Latter-day Guy says:

    “Botched abortion”? Not at all. I mean, yeah, it was touch and go for a minute there––we were afraid the infant might pull through––but “dead baby” was the end result, so no harm done. Wasn’t that the whole point to begin with? Say, rather, “complicated abortion” or “tricky but ultimately successful abortion.”

  11. I just thought it was a hoax– I think that’s why people aren’t jumping to make highly visible public statements.

    I don’t know what kind of additional safeguards you want– market pressure, public pressure, professional competence, and criminal liability all exist already.

  12. Count me as another person who is a little baffled at the idea that what happened here was only wrong because the infant was born alive instead of having been successfully killed in the womb prior to delivery.

    I have another question. Should a woman’s right to autonomy allow her to discontinue her pregnancy at any point in pregnancy by having labor induced, and requiring NICU care for the infant? Let’s say the woman decides at 28 weeks or so that she has suffered enough and does not want to be pregnant, but does want her baby to survive. Should she be able to demand induction of labor and NICU care for the infant until it is able to come home. Why not?

  13. Why not indeed, E? I never understand why people attempt to base their arguments around viability– if you can’t induce labor at that point, what difference does viability make? The fetus is just as burdensome whether it’s viable or not.

  14. Jeff Lindsay has a satirical approach to this (which has been up for at least several months.) See Planned Unparenthood: Because Choice Doesn’t End at Birth

  15. Kevin Barney says:

    How does a woman get to her 23rd week of pregnancy without realizing it? Isn’t that almost six months? Wouldn’t all of those missed periods be a clue? That was one aspect of the facts that was not explained and didn’t make much sense to me.

  16. It’s not that hard to understand not knowing one is pregnant. It can happen if someone is overweight already and has chronic amenorrhea, which can be caused by various things such as stress, poor nutrition, polycystic ovarian syndrome, thyroid problems, etc..

  17. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks z, I appreciate the explanation. I hadn’t thought of that type of situation.

  18. The point is that administration of an abortifacient with resulting delivery of a moribund fetus (vs a visibly dead fetus) seems to me demonstrably distinct from actual infanticide (a practice whereby an otherwise healthy child is killed, generally as a result of broader resource pressures on a community). On the basis of the data provided in your links, it is not possible to characterize the behavior of the medical assistant. The probability of survival of a 23-week fetus born in an abortion clinic is so small that, depending on the situation, futility may be justly invoked (they barely survive when they’re born in a hospital). The testimony of a teenager in active litigation with profound remorse over an abortion gone awry does not strike me as reliable to the degree required to use the term infanticide.

    These cases tend to become caricatures that we paint as a way to distance ourselves from the complexity of the actual encounters. They may be useful if they help us see inconsistencies in assumptions we have maintained.

    The type of discussion that might ensue if people didn’t use infanticide to describe it might involve thinking through parallels–a patient with terminal cancer and clear desire not to have any resuscitation is breathing his last when a relative or neighbor arrives on the scene–is the ethical behavior then to force CPR and associated heroic remedies on the individual? Or to not interfere with futile medical therapies?

    Now if you would like to ban abortions after 22 weeks (or whatever arbitrary date), this abortion would be wrong. To call this medical assistant a murderer in this setting, in the hopes that this time the epithet will be valid, seems to me to not be a path toward understanding. How would we act, assuming that we felt that abortion was an appropriate service to perform, if a moribund fetus made respiratory motions during an abortion? I suspect that many individuals would have acted precisely as the medical assistant acted. There are complex parallels to legal executions and DNA evidence or evidential standards here as well, very tricky issues that we may not all of us understand in sufficient detail to avoid being sharply criticized in the public arena.

    Oh, and Kevin, you’d be amazed how many people are fairly clueless about whether they’re pregnant. Most of them suspect it but are in denial, but some actually just thought they were depressed, overeating, and gaining weight.

  19. Kevin, I have encountered a handful of women who went to term without knowing they were pregnant and whose pregnancy was diagnosed when they went into labor. It is truly amazing and I believe there is usually some sort of psychiatric problem that prevents them from recognizing their own pregnancy.

  20. MikeInWeHo says:

    Kevin, it’s actually a fairly common and well-documented phenomenon.

  21. Kevin, while there are many common things that pregnant women experience, no two women experience the exact same symptoms or side effects of pregnancy.
    Do you wonder also about a terminally ill patient with a cancerous tumor that wasn’t discovered until late? Didn’t they notice the growth inside them? Didn’t they feel the cancerous cells growing? Didn’t they feel the side effects like fatigue, pain, weight loss, etc.?
    I shouldn’t be too hard on you though, while pregnant, I have been acutely aware of my pregnancy it is a little hard to imagine someone not knowing. But there are also many things that go on with my body that I am never quite sure what is causing them. My thyroid disease? Post-partum? Breastfeeding hormones? Irritable bowel syndrome? My thyroid medication?
    FOr me, the only reason I have suspected being pregnant and taken a pregnancy test was because my period didn’t come. Without a regular period (and therefore a missed period), what exactly would prompt me to take a pregnancy test?

  22. Kevin Barney says:

    Uh, guys? Please take a look at my no. 17. It was just an idle question on my part; I immediately saw from z’s explanation how such a thing could happen. I apologize for the threadjack.

  23. I guess you don’t want to talk about pseudopregnancy, then…

  24. Kevin Barney says:

    People can talk about it, but I don’t appreciate everyone acting like I’m an idiot for not acknowledging such a possibility. I acknowledged it immediately when it was pointed out to me.

  25. Latter-day Guy says:

    Awww, Kevin, but it’s such a rare opportunity! Generally, your scriptural prowess leaves no chance for others to act like you’re an idiot. :)

  26. Kevin Barney says:

    Heh, good point, Latter-day Guy. Go ahead and knock yourselves out, guys!

  27. Someday after much study and pondering, I hope to be half the idiot that Kevin Barney is.

  28. Er, twice the idiot. I was never good at math.

  29. Sorry, Kevin. You might have been the only one to vocalize (or post) the idle question, but there are many, many who are thinking the same thing, so I couldn’t help but respond. Many people who are NOT idiots think the same thing (even me, which is why I’ve actually thought it through pretty thoroughly in the 32 months combined that I have actually known I was pregnant while actually pregnant).

  30. . . . people on all sides of the abortion debate agree that what happened in that clinic that day was wrong, wrong, wrong.

    Not everyone, apparently.

  31. JimD,
    The page you link to indicates that Obama’s position on this matter has shifted. I’m curious regarding what additional information you have acquired that gives you his current position on the matter and his feelings about this particular incident.

  32. As far as I’m concerned, this incident serves primarily to underscore how arbitrary the line of right to life on the part of the fetus vs. right to abortion on the part of the mother. Who says a fetus is alive when it draws its first breath, versus when it first generates EEG readings? Who says that this fetus, if born, isn’t viable, but this one is?

    It is all arbitrary. The life and development of a fetus is an analog scale, not a digital one. There is no real, objective point to label as “life”. Even the belief that breath is the point of life is likely rooted in Biblical belief (via the Breath of Life). There are plenty of examples of people who breathe without signs of brain activity. Some even recover. The real issue is which of the rights an individual person believes is the most important: the right of the mother to live her life free of burden, or the right of the fetus to live its life.

  33. In other words…

    Choice means: The right to choose between one’s personal privacy and another’s life.

  34. Kaimi, this is clearly an outlier; a clearly random accidental occurrence, and should be seen as such. Something bad happened, it’s tragic, but, widening it out into a grander condition of the current state of abortion in the US is completely inappropriate, and I expect better of youu as an actual law professor, and, presumably, able to understand nuance and the lack, thereof.

  35. Latter-day Guy says:

    a clearly random accidental occurrence

    Like hell it is. Ultimately, it was a choice. A live baby wasn’t disposed of on accident; it’s not like stubbing a toe.

  36. The page you link to indicates that Obama’s position on this matter has shifted.

    Not really. It indicates that when Obama’s documented opposition to born-alive legislation hit the national spotlight, Obama offered a demonstrably false rationale for his vote.

    I’m curious regarding what additional information you have acquired that gives you his current position on the matter and his feelings about this particular incident.

    OK, I confess that I don’t have proof Obama’s OK with throwing a baby in the trash while it’s still alive. The practice in question was setting the baby on a countertop until it died, and then throwing it away. Apparently, that’s an entirely different situation.

  37. JimD,
    The author of the post you linked to comes to a different conclusion regarding Obama’s rationale. Of course, she allows the reader to come to your their own opinion, but there is more than one way to read the data there.

  38. John, are we reading the same columns?

    Ms. Charen’s column closes thus:

    But there is no other way to interpret his position on BAIPA than this: A woman who chooses an abortion is entitled to a dead child no matter what. That is an abortion extremist.

    The Factcheck page I linked to confirms that a) Obama opposed born-alive legislation, and b) in 2008 Obama misrepresented the language of the 2003 legislation in an attempt to justify himself.

    Whatever the explanation Obama gave then or later, the bottom line is that living, breathing, out-of-the-womb children were being neglected to death in his own state. Given a chance to stop it, Obama made a conscious decision to prolong the status quo.

  39. Kaimi, thank you for posting this.

  40. JimD,
    I’m sorry. I didn’t read the second link and therefore don’t have any idea what it said. Regarding the first link, the author of the fact check page, while acknowledging that Obama appears to be playing with the facts, explicitly states that arguing that Obama endorses infanticide is a misreading of the facts and ignores several statements wherein Obama that he explicitly shuns the notion. This appears to go directly contrary to your initial point. But I’m tired of this. So let’s stop.

  41. Hmm. Interesting comments, y’all.

    re 30: Obama opposed a specific piece of legislation. However, I’ve seen no indication that he thinks that actions like the doctor’s here were not wrong.

    re 34: Err, I’m not widening it into a discussion of abortion. I’m saying that everyone, regardless of position on abortion, ought to agree that this case is unacceptable. Check the post.

    re 40: I’m not familiar enough with Canadian law to opine on those cases. I’m not aware of a similar number of cases occurring in the United States, are you?

  42. I agree that the doctor and his staff should be held responsible, but what about the mother? She comes in for an abortion, gets one, and then sues because she was tramatized by it? Obviously, being a teenager, she had no idea what she was really doing, but did she think was going to happen? I had a miscarriage at 12 weeks and I was in physical pain for a whole day (not to mention the emotional pain that still continues.) Forgive me for sounding like and old woman, but these kids today and their no-consequences attitudes…

  43. John, you keep dancing around the key issue: if President Obama truly “shuns the notion” of infanticide-by-neglect, why did he lend his influence to efforts to kill the two or three bills that would have outlawed the practice in his own state?

    Obama says many pretty things. His actions, in this regard, do not match up with his words. He may not love the practice, but he was certainly willing to allow it to continue where it served his ideological purposes.

    Ideology over lives. Meet the new president, same as the old president.


  44. Kaimi,

    I’m not familiar enough with Canadian law to opine on those cases

    My response to that would be pretty similar to your response to #34, regardless of the particulars of Canadian law, “everyone, regardless of position on abortion, ought to agree that th(ese) case(s) (are) unacceptable.”

  45. John, you keep dancing around the key issue: if President Obama truly “shuns the notion” of infanticide-by-neglect, why did he lend his influence to efforts to kill the two or three bills that would have outlawed the practice in his own state?

    A piece of legislation states that people who homeschool their children are not allowed to take naked pictures of their children. I might oppose this piece of legislation because I think that homeschooling parents should be allowed to do such things. Or, I might oppose it because I think it is not only superfluous (child pr0nography is already illegal) but unfairly demonizes homeschooling parents to promote an anti home-schooling agenda (which I don’t happen to share).

    A piece of legislation states that a doctor with a living breathing baby on his/her table may not toss said living baby into the trash heap. I might oppose this legislation because I think doctors should be able to do such things. I might also oppose it because I see it as superfluous (it is already illegal to toss living infants into trash heaps) and it unfairly demonizes doctors who perform abortions in order to promote an agenda to criminalize abortion (which I don’t happen to share).

    The kind of self-congratulatory moral superiority that allows one person to believe that a fellow human being is cool with throwing living babies into trash bags partakes of the same twisted logic by which some Democrats convince themselves that GWB’s decision to invade Iraq was motivated by a bloodlust for the suffering of Iraqi women and children.

  46. A cynical cynic might even argue that the home-schooling legislation was really just promoted as a means of labeling supporters (or non-opponents) of home-schooling as supporters (or promoters) of child pr0nography.

  47. GWB’s bloodlust for invading iraq with no evidence that they possessed that magical magical device most conveniently summed up by the phrase “Mass Weapons of Destruction” seems to have been completely related to what? Some alcoholic cabbie (curveball) with no backstory except the story those in power (imagine the top row of the keyboard with the shift key set to “on”)who told a bunch of lies?

    Directly contradicting Saddam Hussein’s on Son-in-Law, who was killed, that’s dead, who said that whatever MWD had been destroyed. This would not be important except that it is the very same man that the Bush admin sucessfullly used to prove that such things existed,

    How dare, how dare, how dare you relate the deliberate killing of some huge (a million)number of people, the total destruction of a country, and the creation of an almost unimaginable number of refugees with nowhere to go (four million?) with some single procedure involving one creature no matter how botched. There’s a word for this. Think of it yourself.

  48. “There’s a word for this. Think of it yourself.”


  49. Djinn,

    Brad said this:

    1. It is incorrect, and a politically motivated overstatement, to suggest that Obama wants to throw babies in the trash.

    2. It is also incorrect, and a politically motivated overstatement, to suggest that Bush loves to kill Iraqi babies.

    That is correct, I think. Do you think it’s incorrect?

    On a related note, do you think that you could make slightly less combative comments from time to time? I enjoy some of your comments, and I think you’re a commenter who can contribute positively to the discussions round here. Of late, it seems that you just jump in, guns blazing, with every comment.

    Slow down. Take a breath. Most of the folks here aren’t bad people, and are willing to listen to and discuss reasonable, non-combative comments.

  50. You are correct. Goodbye. Just stop being so darn interesting. No I take it back it’s all my fault. It would help though, if you could be a bit more boring. Again, though my fault alone.

  51. I am no prophet—and here’s no great matter;

    have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

    I do not think that they will sing to me.

  52. Latter-day Guy says:

    Ummm… oookaaay, Alfred J.

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