A recent paper entitled After-birth abortion: why should the baby live? has caused quite a stir amongst the religious because it purportedly shows that abortion is morally equivalent to infanticide. Their argument is no more than an argument of the form “If you think abortion is morally acceptable for reason X, then you also think infanticide is acceptable.”
This begs the question “what is reason X?” In their paper, reason X is “because a fetus not a person.” It is very important to note that even if their logical argument is flawless, it only applies to people who support abortion rights for this one very specific reason: that a fetus is not a person (as defined below). They have not shown that anyone actually supports abortion rights for reason X or that any existing laws are based even in part on reason X. That is, they have not shown that the “if” statement actually applies to anyone.
This point is important enough to re-iterate: their conclusion does not hold in general. It only holds for those who support abortion rights specifically because of reason X.
(1) A person is “an individual who is capable of attributing to her own existence some basic value such that being deprived of this existence represents a loss to her.”
(2) Neither fetuses nor newborns are capable of attributing value to their existence.
(3) Therefore, neither fetuses nor newborns are persons.
(4) Therefore, fetuses and newborns have the same moral standing.
Can you see the flaw?
Even if we accept (1) (2) and (3), (4) does not immediately follow. To see why, I will use a glaringly obvious and simple-minded analogy, following their line of reasoning.
(1) A cat is a creature that says “meow.”
(2) Neither horses nor dogs say “meow.”
(3) Therefore, neither horses nor dogs are cats.
(4) Therefore, horses and dogs are equivalent.
Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? Even if you grant me the first three, (4) still doesn’t follow. Just because horses and dogs are both not cats doesn’t mean they’re the same animal!
In order for (4) to be a logically valid conclusion in their case, they need a further claim — that personhood is the only relevant factor in determining moral equivalence classes. Otherwise, while fetuses and infants may both be non-persons, they have not been shown to be equivalent to each other. In order to show this, the authors must show that all other differences between fetuses and infants have no bearing on their moral standing. One particularly glaring omission is that the authors have conveniently ignored the fact that fetuses take residence inside the body of another human while infants do not. If this fact is irrelevant to the moral status of fetuses as compared to that of infants, an argument must be made to explain why. Since the authors have neither made nor proven this crucial claim, they cannot logically conclude (4).
Their claim that supporting abortion is the same as supporting infanticide has not been shown as a valid, even within their narrow framework and using their non-standard definition of personhood. I hope this analysis was of use to someone. Please feel free to share this with anyone attempting to equate abortion and infanticide, or with anyone experiencing doubt about their pro-choice stance due to Minerva and Giubilini’s paper.