I recently watched a podcast with Joe Rogan and Alex Jones, which is my own fault. The topic was a conspiracy theory about post-birth abortions, organ harvesting and the controversy surrounding the Virginia governor and his description of an example of abortion.

Now, as far as I know, born babies, already are protected by law and the new protection law, which was opposed by Democrats, wouldn't have added much to that protection.

While I am not sure what the governor was really trying to say, I wonder, if there are actually any proponents of "post-birth abortions", even if they are fringe extremists? It seems to me, that such a notion wouldn't make sense, even for the most hard-core pro-choice activists. What is there to gain, by killing a baby, which is already born?

And then there is the question, if abortion of a viable fetus, late in the third trimester, isn't basically the same as euthanasia? A late fetus has to be either delivered, dead or alive, or has to be extracted by cesarian, dead or alive. In these cases, what is the advantage of an abortion compared to a normal birth?

For the sake of argument, let's ignore the fact, that late abortions are rare, since they still do happen and the fact that they are rare adds nothing to the discussion. Let's also ignore the fact, that in practice many of those late abortions are due to horrible deformities and such.

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    More to the point, given that words have meaning, can there even be such a thing as a "post-birth abortion"? Birth renders the idea of abortion impossible, does it not? – PoloHoleSet Feb 28 '19 at 19:50
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    Peter Singer, a full time ethicist, advocates allowing infanticide under certain circumstances. Does that qualify? – Andrew Grimm Feb 28 '19 at 20:03
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    There is no such thing as "post-birth abortion". The closest you could get is euthanasia, which is an entirely different issue having nothing to do with abortion. – pluckedkiwi Feb 28 '19 at 20:03
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    I think the situation that is trying to be described is that, while receiving a late term abortion, a mishap in the operation causes the fetus to technically be considered birthed (i.e. "The Fetus" has started breathing has been the layman definition I've heard... I don't know much about medical practices to say where the hard line between a Fetus and a Baby lies, but this is as good as I can recall) and the baby/fetus/whatever is allowed to die or the operation is continued. – hszmv Feb 28 '19 at 20:24
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    @user1721135: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kermit_Gosnell He was charged with 7 cases and convicted of 4. A problem with the actual number of such incidents is Gosnell did falsify records of the number of weeks at which the fetus was to get around the legal cut off of 24 weeks, and some speculations suggest this could rise into the hundreds. For the record this would fall into the category of continuing the operation after the child was clearly born. – hszmv Feb 28 '19 at 20:48

Reaching pretty far back, Dr. Harry Haiselden in 1915 Chicago "refused to perform surgery on the newborn son of the Bollinger family." He did not advocate any action be taken to terminate the child's life, but instead withheld life-saving treatment that would extend his life. Five days later the child passed away. The crux of Haiselden's argument was that it is "our duty to defend ourselves and future generations against the mentally defective." Haiselden then went on to rally support behind the idea of child euthanasia arguing:

first, that infants with serious disabilities were destined for a life of suffering and that a merciful death was the most humane option. Second, persons with certain disabilities were a danger and a burden to society.

A surprising supporter of Haiselden was Helen Keller, a well-known advocate for people with disabilities who was stricken blind and deaf at a very young age. She ended up writing a letter that was published in The New Republic on December 18th, 1915 titled Physicians' Juries For Defective Babies from which she wrote:

It is the possibilities of happiness, intelligence and power that give life its sanctity, and they are absent in the case of a poor, misshapen, paralyzed, unthinking creature. I think there are many more clear cases of such hopeless death-in-life than the critics of Dr. Haiselden realize. The toleration of such anomalies tends to lessen the sacredness in which normal life is held.

Her argument was that such cases should be presented to a jury of physicians, in much the same way that criminal defendents (sometimes sentenced to death) are submitted before a jury of their peers.

Fast-forwarding a bit closer to the present, Belgium voted in 2014 to remove all age restrictions to the country's euthanisa law. The journal Pediatrics discussed this with medical ethicists and a pediatrician from the U.S., the Netherlands, and Belgium. Margaret Battin, a professor with the University of Utah, argued against maintaining the age restrictions. Her arguments were pretty philosphical in nature, and presented opponents to her position a list of propositions that they would need to refute, with some being impossible to.

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  • I am not surprised about the attitude in 1915, but I am surprised that there are now no age restrictions on Euthanasia in Belgium, however, if I understand it correctly, the child must know what's going on and must consent to it? Not that that makes it a lot better. – user1721135 Feb 28 '19 at 21:22
  • @user1721135 Actually it requires the child, the parents, and being determined that the child has the capacity of understanding and judgement (implying some kind of technical/ethics group to analyze this). For comparison the Netherlands has its age restriction for euthanasia at 12 (in practice stating legally that no child under 12 fulfills the last criteria). I think both cases are notable for positive reasons. There are conditions for which we do not have the technology for proper treatment. Comparing this with an example in eugenics is nonsensical. – armatita Mar 1 '19 at 12:58
  • This answer would be better if the bulk of it wasn't opinions from 100 years ago. – Geobits Mar 1 '19 at 13:51
  • @armatita The Netherlands also has the Groningen Protocol for terminal neonates, so the restriction overall is on those between 1 and 12. – Geobits Mar 1 '19 at 13:53
  • @Geobits I agree. I did try finding a few more recent examples, I'm sure they're out there. I'm coming at this pretty strictly from an American perspective, and I think the atrocities encountered in WWII profoundly impacted people's attitudes towards the subject to the extent that even physician assisted suicide for adults is illegal throughout most of the country. Couple that with half the country brow beating the other half over the issue of pre-birth abortion for half a century, and you won't find many people coming out in favor of this in modern times. – Jeff Lambert Mar 1 '19 at 14:02

A lot of this is a distorted reporting of "partial birth abortion": https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Partial-Birth_Abortion_Ban_Act

Any attempt to put the boundary between "alive independent human" and "non-independently viable foetus" has problems. The argument ends up around the rare cases where a decision has to be made on medical care for the mother. Defining either "alive" or "born" has surprising, horrendous corner cases.

(Question:) A late fetus has to be either delivered, dead or alive, or has to be extracted by cesarian, dead or alive. In these cases, what is the advantage of an abortion compared to a normal birth?

Potentially, the survival of the mother. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_Savita_Halappanavar

On 21 October 2012, Halappanavar, then 17 weeks pregnant, was examined at University Hospital Galway, after complaining of back pain, but was ultimately discharged without a diagnosis. She returned to the hospital later that day, this time complaining of vaginal pressure, a sensation she described as feeling "something coming down," and a subsequent examination found that the gestational sac was protruding into her vagina. She was admitted to hospital, as it was determined that miscarriage was unavoidable, and several hours later, just after midnight on 22 October, her water broke but did not expel the fetus.[8]:22–26[9][8]:29 The following day, on 23 October, Halappanavar discussed abortion with her consulting physician but her request was promptly refused, as Irish law, under the influence of the Catholic Church, at that time forbade abortion if a fetal heartbeat was still present.[8]:33[10] Unfortunately, for Halappanavar, developed sepsis and, despite doctors' efforts to treat her, she died of cardiac arrest at 1:09 AM on 28 October, at the age of 31

The avoidable death of Savita Halappanavar was the galvanising event for the successful campaign to repeal Ireland's constitutional ban on abortion.

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  • Didn't the patient die, because of a partial miscarriage? Let's say they decided for a cesarian, as soon as problems arised (instead of waiting). How would that have differed from an abortion procedure? – user1721135 Mar 4 '19 at 0:39
  • 17 weeks pregnant is I think before viability, so that would likely have counted as an abortion. There may have been other medical reasons not to do that which I am not familiar with. – pjc50 Mar 4 '19 at 7:58

There are still modern proponents of infanticide, using the same broad standards applied to abortion (where the reason, beyond the desire of the woman, is irrelevant). Slate detailed one not long ago that was featured in the Journal of Medical Ethics in 2012

[W]hen circumstances occur after birth such that they would have justified abortion, what we call after-birth abortion should be permissible. … [W]e propose to call this practice ‘after-birth abortion’, rather than ‘infanticide,’ to emphasize that the moral status of the individual killed is comparable with that of a fetus … rather than to that of a child. Therefore, we claim that killing a newborn could be ethically permissible in all the circumstances where abortion would be. Such circumstances include cases where the newborn has the potential to have an (at least) acceptable life, but the well-being of the family is at risk.


Nonetheless, to bring up such children might be an unbearable burden on the family and on society as a whole, when the state economically provides for their care. On these grounds, the fact that a fetus has the potential to become a person who will have an (at least) acceptable life is no reason for prohibiting abortion. Therefore, we argue that, when circumstances occur after birth such that they would have justified abortion, what we call after-birth abortion should be permissible.

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    I have read about that paper many times, but I can not take it seriously, with a title including "why should the baby live". It's a very obvious troll. I was looking for serious opinions and proponents of this idea. – user1721135 Mar 4 '19 at 0:43

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