Posted by: L. E. Barnes | March 3, 2012

Abortion and Infanticide: Is There a Difference?

Catholic philosophy professor Dr. Peter Kreeft once shared about a conversation he had a with a pro-choice woman in which he challenged her to produce a single argument justifying abortion that did not also justify infanticide. In the end, she couldn’t do it, but instead of dropping her support of abortion, she informed Dr. Kreeft that she now supported infanticide as well as abortion! (He admitted that was a perfect example of his winning an argument but losing the person…)

However, a recent controversial article seeks to make the case that if abortion is morally justifiable, then so is infanticide — or as the article’s authors prefer put it, “after-birth abortion”. The Telegraph reports:

The authors, ethicists Dr Alberto Giubilini and Dr Francesca Minerva, argued: “The moral status of an infant is equivalent to that of a foetus in the sense that both lack those properties that justify the attribution of a right to life to an individual.”

Rather than being “actual persons”, newborns were “potential persons”. They explained: “Both a foetus and a newborn certainly are human beings and potential persons, but neither is a ‘person’ in the sense of ‘subject of a moral right to life’.

“We take ‘person’ to mean an individual who is capable of attributing to her own existence some (at least) basic value such that being deprived of this existence represents a loss to her.”

As such they argued it was “not possible to damage a newborn by preventing her from developing the potentiality to become a person in the morally relevant sense”.

“Actual persons” could be harmed by being killed, in that they were prevented from accomplishing “aims”.

But they argued: “Now, hardly can a newborn be said to have aims as the future we imagine for it is merely a projection of our own minds.”

Parents should be able to have the baby killed if it turned out to be disabled without their knowing before birth, they said, citing the example that only 64 per cent of Down’s syndrome cases in Europe were diagnosed by prenatal testing.

Once such children were born there was “no choice for the parents but to keep the child”, they wrote.

“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.”

However, they did not argue that some baby killings were more justifiable than others – their fundamental point was that, morally, there was no difference to abortion as already practised.

They preferred to use the phrase “after-birth abortion” rather than “infanticide” to “emphasise that the moral status of the individual killed is comparable with that of a fetus”.

Giubilini and Minerva insist that they are not proposing that laws permitting “after-birth abortions” be enacted. Nevertheless, their article has ignited a great deal of controversy:

Many believe such possibilities should never be raised – even within the confines of an ethics journal.

However, some anti-abortionists have welcomed its publication, saying it casts a bright light on what abortion actually is.

Anthony Ozimic, from the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), said the article, which he described as a “chilling promotion of infanticide”, showed how abortion was “creating a culture of death”.

While he was appalled at the suggestion that newborns should be killed for their parents’ convenience, he nevertheless said it showed the logical framework behind infanticide and abortion was the same.

He said: “The paper proves what pro-lifers have long been arguing: that the common arguments for abortion also justify infanticide.

“There is no difference in moral status between a child one day before birth and a child one day after birth.

“Birth is merely a change of location, not a change from non-personhood to personhood” …

Dr Trevor Stammers, director of medical ethics at St Mary’s University College, said: “If a mother does smother her child with a blanket, we say ‘it’s doesn’t matter, she can get another one,’ is that what we want to happen?

“What these young colleagues are spelling out is what we would be the inevitable end point of a road that ethical philosophers in the States and Australia have all been treading for a long time and there is certainly nothing new.”

Referring to the term “after-birth abortion”, Dr Stammers added: “This is just verbal manipulation that is not philosophy. I might refer to abortion henceforth as antenatal infanticide.”

Others have responded less kindly, and Minerva reports that she has even received death threats.

You can read the full Telegraph article here, or the Giubilini and Minerva article here.

The bottom line: Can you say “culture of death”?



  1. Evan,

    Thanks for a fuller treatment of this insanity. I could not get through the entire reviewed article because I became enraged.

    In my opinion, this shows another reason why the Church is right that life begins at conception. Any other definition leads to this conclusion.

    The flip side is euthanasia – why not start killing elderly because their ‘potential’ is used up?

    Have you seen 180 the movie? Check it out at

    • Thanks for commenting. The authors of the article insist they weren’t actually trying to promote infanticide; instead, they say their discussion was purely academic and meant to point out that the arguments typically given to justify legalized abortion can just as easily be used to justify ending the lives of infants. And I hope this will get “pro-choice” people to rethink all this nonsense about abortion “rights”. God have mercy on us.


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