License to Kill
by William Norman Grigg
When the muffled whimpers were first heard coming from the outhouse,
the woman who heard them
thought they were the cries of a trapped animal. Summoned to investigate, Town Marshall Robert
Parr, using a telescopic mirror and flashlight, espied the feet of an infant. Emergency Medical
Technician Teresa Treadway was carefully lowered into the pit — which, thankfully, was nearly
empty — and retrieved a six pound, seven ounce baby. "We could see the baby down there,"
Treadway later explained. "He was covered with blankets but his little foot was out. He was moving
his little foot. He wasn’t crying, but there was a little bit of whimpering."
The incident, which took place last August in Clay County, Indiana,
was just one of several in which
mothers abandoned newborns in toilet facilities. In July, a 16-year-old visiting Atlantic City, New
Jersey from the Dominican Republic abandoned her newborn child in a toilet in a bus station lavatory.
A July 15, 1997 Associated Press dispatch noted that the Atlantic City incident was by no means
unique: "Three teen-age mothers have been charged since November  in the deaths of their
newborns in cases with New Jersey ties.... A teen-age couple from New Jersey was charged with
killing their newborn son in a Newark, Delaware motel in November. A 17-year-old girl from
Pennsylvania is accused of concealing the death of her baby, which was born May 26 at a
condominium in Ventor and stuffed in a gym bag. And an 18-year-old girl from Forked River is
accused of killing her baby, born in a bathroom while she attended her high school prom last month."
Melissa Drexler, the mother who gave birth at the prom, was arraigned on murder charges after an
autopsy on the infant (who had been abandoned in the garbage) found that he had been killed by
"asphyxiation due to manual strangulation and obstruction."
Yet another infanticide occurred in Queens, New York last November.
Martinez gave birth to a baby girl while sitting on a toilet; she later explained to investigators that "she
let the baby fall into the water, where [she] cried for several seconds while her arms and legs flailed."
Martinez was arraigned on murder charges, prompting syndicated columnist George Will to
comment, "If, as soon as the baby’s skull appeared, Martinez had opened a hole in the skull and
extracted the brains, the most she could be charged with is practicing medicine (specifically,
partial-birth abortion) without a license."
Casting about in search of an explanation for these appalling incidents,
Dr. Dave David, a Boston
gynecologist regarded as an expert in teen pregnancies, suggested that the fault lies with the publicity
such episodes receive: "A woman who’s agonizing about what to do may hear about other people
disposing of their babies and decide that’s what she will do." This observation is sound, as far as it
goes, but it ignores the fact that teenagers in such troubled circumstances have grown up in a culture
in which the Supreme Court has ruled that babies are disposable during the entire nine months of
pregnancy — and the President deploys his veto pen to defend a form of infanticide (partial-birth
abortion) that is morally and scientifically indistinguishable from the incidents described above. When
a troubled teenage mother discards a newborn infant in a toilet, her repellent action is perfectly
compatible with the abortion ethic.
“Order of Priorities”
The Roe v. Wade decision of 1973 invalidated the abortion laws of all
50 states and enshrined the
abortion ethic as the supposed "law of the land." Writing for the Supreme Court’s majority, Justice
Harry Blackmun decreed that since "the word ‘person,’ as used in the Fourteenth Amendment, does
not include the unborn," it was not necessary to "resolve the difficult question of where life begins."
The Court’s majority dismissed the living individual within the womb as "potential" life, worthy of the
"interest" of the state but meriting no protection from it. Blackmun further decreed that the state may
enact measures to protect a developing child who had reached viability, and thus enjoyed a
"capability of meaningful life outside the mother’s womb." However, Blackmun insisted, even at such
a late stage, the state’s "important and legitimate interest in potential life" must yield to considerations
of maternal health, including mental and psychological distress. In other words, under Roe a
developing child may be killed at any point in the pregnancy, since the child is not recognized as a
"person" by the Supreme Court.
Blackmun’s opinion forms a tissue of pointless pedantry, littered with
irrelevant citations and
intellectual cul-de-sacs intended to distract its reader from a point raised in Justice Byron White’s
dissent: "I find nothing in the language or history of the Constitution to support the Court’s judgment.
The Court simply fashions and announces a new constitutional right for pregnant mothers … and,
with scarcely any reason or authority for its action, invests that right with sufficient substance to
override most existing state abortion statutes." As a result, continued White, the Court interposed "a
constitutional barrier to state efforts to protect human life and [invested] mothers and doctors with the
constitutionally protected right to exterminate it."
"The Court apparently values the convenience of the pregnant mother
more than the continued
existence and development of the life she carries," White observed. "Whether or not I might agree
with that marshaling of values, I can in no event join the Court’s judgment because I find no
constitutional warrant for imposing such an order of priorities on the people and legislatures of the
states." Here White identified the core of the abortion ethic: It teaches an "order of priorities" in which
the state exalts convenience over the right to life of an unborn human being, including babies who are
slaughtered in the birth canal a few inches and seconds shy of birth. That ethic did not develop
through spontaneous consensus; it was imposed upon the American public by a lawless Supreme
In Measure for Measure, Shakespeare writes: "Thieves for their robbery
have authority when judges
steal themselves." Official lawlessness inevitably inspires private lawlessness. Taking their cue from
the Supreme Court’s official dehumanization of pre-born children, the troubled mothers who secretly
bore children only to discard them in toilets or strangle them at birth were acting on the license to kill
granted by the Court in Roe, as adapted to their understanding that birth need not interfere with the
"order of priorities" reflected in that decision.
In his Roe decision, Justice Blackmun arrogated to the Court the Olympian
prerogative of striking
down all existing state abortion laws — but modestly declined to offer guidance regarding the
question of when legal personhood must be recognized. To be even more specific, the Court did not
rule on whether a partially delivered infant threatened by partial-birth abortion is a "person" and thus
entitled to the protection of the law. The Roe decision did take notice of a Texas statute which made
it a felony to kill a child intentionally during the process of delivery.
As the House Judiciary Committee has observed, there "is no substantive
difference between a child
in the process of being born and that same child when he or she is born. The only distinguishing
characteristic is locale. Clearly, the child is as much a ‘person’ when in the process of being born as
that child is when the process is complete."
The continuity between legal partial-birth abortion and post-birth infanticide
is illustrated by the
infamous case of Amy Grossberg and Brian Peterson, a college-age couple from Delaware who
delivered their baby in a motel room and allegedly killed him and abandoned his body in a dumpster.
A backgrounder provided by the National Right to Life Committee points out that "at a single
abortion clinic in Englewood, New Jersey — only a few miles away from the homes of the young
couple in question — doctors acknowledged that they perform over 1,500 partial-birth abortions a
year." Nor are most of them performed for "medical" reasons: A clinic official informed the Bergen
County (New Jersey) Record, "Most are Medicaid patients, black and white, and most are for
elective, not medical, reasons; people who didn’t realize, or didn’t care, how far along they were.
Most were teenagers."
A Step Further
The only substantial difference between the variety of infanticide called
"partial-birth abortion" and the
variety practiced by Grossberg and Peterson is that states are presently permitted to recognize birth
as the beginning of legally defined personhood, and punish as murderers those who kill newborns.
However, laws against infanticide may be the next casualty of the logic of Roe v. Wade.
In a November 2nd New York Times Magazine essay inspired by the recent
cases, Steven Pinker, a professor of psychology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
argued that women who kill their newborns are acting out instincts that are hard-wired "into the
biological design of our parental emotions" as a result of "natural selection." Non-human mammals
often abandon weak or sickly newborns and "favor the healthiest in the litter or try again later on,"
Pinker blithely observed. "In most cultures, neonaticide [the killing of newborns] is a form of this
triage.... In most societies documented by anthropologists … a woman lets a newborn die when its
prospects for survival to adulthood are poor."
Pinker contended, "Full personhood is often not automatically granted
at birth," and, "To a biologist,
birth is as arbitrary a milestone as any other" in conferring personhood upon the individual. In fact,
"Several moral philosophers have concluded that neonates are not persons, and thus neonaticide
should not be classified as murder.... So how do you provide grounds for outlawing neonaticide? The
facts don’t make it easy."
Pinker’s essay generated a torrent of indignation, some of it contributed
by liberals who support
abortion on demand. "Of all the arguments advanced against the legalization of abortion, the one that
always struck me as the most questionable is the most consequential: that the widespread acceptance
of abortion would lead to a profound moral shift in our culture, a great devaluing of human life," wrote
liberal commentator Michael Kelly in the November 6th Washington Post. Taking note of Pinker’s
essay, in which "the voice of the intellectual establishment … came out for killing babies," Kelly
ruefully admitted, "This time, it seems, the pessimists were right."
Quality or Sanctity?
But Pinker’s essay was neither the first, nor the most candid, defense
of infanticide. Indeed, the
intellectual groundwork for the legalization of infanticide was being laid before the ink was dry on the
Roe decision, and the Supreme Court has passively endorsed infanticide in practice.
In his Roe opinion, delivered on January 22, 1973, Harry Blackmun used
the expression "potential
life" to create an artificial distinction between the developing child and a legally recognized "person."
The same curious use of the adjective "potential" found its way into an essay published on that same
day in the London Times by Barbara Smoker, vice chairman of the British Humanist Association.
Smoker contended that "the situation of a newborn baby is very different from that of the same baby,
even a few weeks later.... At birth the baby is only a potential human being and at that point it is
surely the humane and sensible thing that the life of any baby with obvious severe defects, whether of
body or brain, should be quietly snuffed out by the doctor or midwife." The key to Smoker’s
suggestion is the redefinition of a living newborn as a "potential human being" — a move which would
be entirely compatible with the Roe decision, which does not, in Blackmun’s words, clearly "resolve
the difficult question of where life begins."
A few weeks after the Roe decision was published, James Watson — the
man who cracked the
genetic code — presented a very similar brief on behalf of institutionalizing infanticide in the case of
children born with birth defects. "If a child were not declared alive until three days after birth," wrote
Watson in the May 1973 issue of AMA Prism, "then all parents could be allowed the choice … the
doctor could allow the child to die if the parents so choose and save a lot of misery and suffering."
Another apologia for infanticide was composed by Dr. Joseph Fletcher,
creator of the concept of
"situational ethics." In a January 1982 interview, Fletcher insisted, "It is absolutely imperative that
society put an emphasis on the quality of life, rather than the sanctity of life." According to Fletcher,
"There is no doubt that the general trend in ethical thought is to terminate the lives of defective
newborns.... [I]f such a child had a demonstrably low IQ or had severe physical disabilities, then its
life should be mercifully ended."
A few weeks after Fletcher shared his musings about the "merciful" killing
of newborns, the
arguments for infanticide were translated from the realm of theoretical abstraction into murderous
reality. In the notorious 1982 "Baby Doe" case in Bloomington, Indiana, a six-day-old infant who
was born with a defect of the esophagus was allowed to starve to death, rather than receive
intravenous nutrition and relatively minor surgery to correct the defect. This was done because the
child was born with Down’s syndrome, a genetic defect which results in mental retardation, and the
baby’s parents did not want the burden of raising a retarded child. Despite the fact that several
doctors had volunteered to perform the surgery, and numerous couples had offered to adopt and
raise the child, the parents’ decision to starve their child was upheld by the Indiana Supreme Court.
Following the Bloomington case, the Reagan Administration issued new
guidelines requiring hospitals
that receive federal funds to ensure that handicapped newborns were not denied treatment on the
basis of their handicap. Borrowing a tactic from the left, the Reagan Administration packaged the
regulations as a "civil rights" issue — thereby seeking to justify federal intervention in state and local
affairs. Significantly, a five-judge Supreme Court majority (including Blackmun) struck down the
so-called "Baby Doe Regulations" on June 9, 1986, insisting that the federal government has no
authority "to give unsolicited advice either to parents, to hospitals, or to state officials who are faced
with difficult treatment decisions concerning handicapped children."
In the Roe v. Wade decision, the Court eagerly enhanced the power of
the federal government to
create an abortion "right." However, it displayed no similar appetite when offered an opportunity to
extend federal jurisdiction in order to protect the lives of endangered newborns. In this the Court was
faithful to the "order of priorities" associated with the abortion ethic.
Acceptance of the abortion ethic requires not only the rejection of
millennia of Western moral
teachings, but a dogmatic disdain for recent scientific findings that confirm the humanity of the unborn.
In recent years, medical facilities in Europe and Asia have begun to make use of newly developed
three-dimensional ultrasound technology (3DUS), which offers much more accurate and detailed
views of the developing child. The computer-generated images produced by 3DUS systems are of
tremendous benefit in early diagnosis and treatment of fetal health problems.
However, as reporter Liz Townsend points out, "For pro-lifers, all forms
of ultrasound are both a
blessing and a burden. More accurate views of unborn children make them more ‘real’ to the
average person.... But ultrasound can also doom an unborn child to extinction when a ‘malformation’
— such as cleft palate or clubfoot — is seen on the picture."
Compounding that irony is the fact that it is not uncommon for heroic
medical efforts to be
undertaken to save prematurely born babies of a gestational age that is younger than other children
who are slaughtered by abortion — witness the case of "Baby Kelly," who was born at 21 weeks
after conception (see photo on page 13). By way of contrast, Dr. George Tiller of Kansas, who
publicly acknowledges performing third-trimester abortions, maintains that babies shouldn’t be
regarded as "viable" until they are "capable of surviving outside the womb without artificial life
supports." Tiller’s standard would permit abortions through the 34th week of pregnancy — two
weeks short of full term. Tiller, incidentally, sluiced some of the proceeds from his grisly trade into the
Clinton re-election campaign during a June 17, 1996 White House "coffee" — a gesture of thanks for
Mr. Clinton’s veto of the partial-birth abortion ban, perhaps.
A “Failed” Abortion
Bill Clinton and other pro-abortion extremists insist that banning partial-birth
abortion would fatally
injure the abortion "right" created by Roe v. Wade — and their fears are somewhat justified: That
"right" depends upon the preservation of the legal assumption that the unborn child never acquires the
right to life at any time prior to birth. In the traditional Western view, as articulated in the Declaration
of Independence, the right to life is conferred upon individuals by their Creator. Under the abortion
ethic, that "right" is only conferred upon those humans who are "wanted." One might suspect that a
major reason pro-abortion activists so tenaciously defend partial-birth abortion is that it prevents the
unwanted complication of a "failed" abortion — meaning a live "unwanted" child. Twenty-year-old
Gianna Jessen is one such blessed complication.
In April 1977, Gianna’s mother, a troubled 17-year-old, underwent a
saline abortion — a method in
which a toxic solution is used to poison the unborn child and burn it alive in the womb. As is the case
in such abortions, the unborn Gianna swallowed some of the poisoned amniotic fluid. However, she
miraculously survived the torture and was born at 30 weeks’ gestational age. It is not uncommon for
personnel at abortion clinics to deal with such complications by allowing the "unwanted" children to
die from neglect, but in Gianna’s case a nurse took her to the hospital, where she hovered between
life and death for three months before her condition stabilized.
Although she has cerebral palsy as a result of her experience, Gianna
is a bright, articulate young
woman blessed with a radiant Christian faith and a beautiful singing voice. Understandably, she is also
deeply committed to the pro-life cause. In April 1996 she was invited to offer testimony before a
hearing of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution (see sidebar on page 12).
Referring to her birth mother’s decision to end her life in utero, Gianna
told the subcommittee: "I am
the person she aborted. I lived instead of died.... Some have said I am a ‘botched abortion.’ A result
of a job not well done." Gianna informed the lawmakers that she had met other abortion survivors,
including a two-year-old named Sarah who also has cerebral palsy as a result of salt poisoning by an
abortionist. "She is blind and has severe seizures," Gianna testified. "The abortionist, besides injecting
the mother with saline, also injects the baby victims. Sarah was injected in the head." Despite her
afflictions, Gianna told the subcommittee: "I am happy to be alive. I almost died. Every day I thank
God for life."
Gianna is a living reproach to the abortion ethic — and her living witness
is too much for
pro-abortion activists to bear. Of the 13 congressmen on the subcommittee, only two were on hand
to hear Gianna’s testimony. Particularly conspicuous by her absence was Colorado Democrat
Patricia Schroeder, a perfervid supporter of abortion. Schroeder boycotted the hearing, protesting
that it was intended to "undermine the public’s consistent and overwhelming support for Roe v.
Wade." Indeed, nothing undermines sophistry more effectively than the truth.
Matter of the Heart
Schroeder’s decision to avoid Gianna Jessen’s testimony provides an
apt illustration of the biblical
proverb which teaches us that "the wicked flee where no man pursueth." It also illustrates that the
battle to restore institutionalized respect for human life is ultimately one in which hearts and minds
must be changed.
Defeating the abortion ethic in all its permutations will require more
than overturning Roe v. Wade
and strengthening legal protection of the right to life. As we have seen, existing laws against the
murder of newborn children have proven to be of little benefit in deterring those bent on committing
infanticide — whether by abandoning infants in toilets or killing them through artfully rationalized
clinical neglect. The same was true of those who flouted pre-Roe laws against abortion; it will
probably be true in the future as chemical abortifacients such as RU-486 replace surgical procedures
as the abortion method of first resort.
The damage done to the Constitution by Roe v. Wade must be repaired,
and statutory protection for
the right to life must be restored. But the ultimate victory will require that hearts be changed, one at a
THE NEW AMERICAN - Copyright 1997, American Opinion Publishing, Incorporated