Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft once found himself arguing with an abortion supporter, and said to her: "Give me one argument that defends abortion that doesn't also defend infanticide."
He was pleasantly surprised when she later said he had convinced her. "Congratulations," he said, "you've seen the logic." "Yeah," she replied, "now I'm for infanticide."
As Kreeft says at the end of his story, "sometimes logic is dangerous."
The logic of the campaign for abortion is becoming clearer. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has enthusiastically signed a state law that rescinds all meaningful limits on abortion throughout pregnancy – and protection for a child born alive during an attempted abortion. Other states face similar proposals.
And in Congress, Democrats in both chambers have blocked a bill that, like the old New York law, would protect live-born babies. Only three Senate Democrats voted to let it move forward.
The shifting boundary between abortion and infanticide has a history, beginning with the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. The court went beyond all 50 state laws to authorize abortion after "viability" (when a child can survive outside the womb). Live delivery is always an alternative in such cases – so the decision seemed to support not only a right to end a pregnancy, but a right to a dead child.
Courts then acted on this logic, nullifying charges against doctors accused of fatally neglecting a child born alive during an abortion (the Edelin case in 1975) or of actively killing one (the Waddill case in 1978). The Supreme Court itself invalidated Pennsylvania’s efforts to ensure that during a post-viability abortion, a second physician be present to care for a child who survived.
Dissenting from such a decision in 1986, Thornburgh v. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Chief Justice Warren Burger said he had signed the majority opinion in Roe believing it would not lead to abortion on demand, much less results like this. Appalled by the court’s extremism, he suggested that Roe itself be reconsidered.
In his book "Rachel Weeping," Father James Burtchaell writes that courts had begun to see the dividing line of birth "as somewhat like a state border, which an officer of one jurisdiction may disregard if he is following a fugitive in hot pursuit."
Later, policymakers pulled back from this brink. The public learned of a late-term "partial-birth abortion" technique that kills the child already partly outside the womb. Congress banned it in 2003, with even "pro-choice" senators like Daniel Patrick Moynihan saying it was too close to infanticide – and the Supreme Court upheld the ban in 2007. Pennsylvania refined its law protecting newborns, and it remains in effect. Late-term abortionist Kermit Gosnell was convicted of violating that law in 2013, after killing children born alive during attempted abortions.
And in 2002, with little dissent, Congress passed the "Born-Alive Infants Protection Act" that simply said a child showing signs of life outside the womb after delivery, miscarriage or abortion is a "person" under federal law. During House debate, abortion advocate Rep. Jerrold Nadler complained only that he had to "put on a show" of approving something everyone already agreed on.
But now a "Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act" would simply implement what Congress said in 2002: Because the child surviving an abortion is a person, you may not intentionally kill the child, and you must provide the same care as you would for other newborn children of that gestational age. And abortion supporters, with a renewed appreciation for their own logic, are working to defeat it.
Slogans about women controlling their own bodies, a choice to "terminate" unwanted pregnancies, etc., are falling away, so the logic of abortion can be seen for what it is – simply anti-life.
(Doerflinger worked for 36 years in the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He writes from Washington state.)