Whatever Your Politics

Whatever your stance on the abortion debate, no decent human being can fail to be repulsed by the story: “Baby Trashed After Botched Abortion.” Apparently the doctor didn’t show up in time to abort the child of his 23-year-old patient, so she gave birth instead. At which point one of the clinic’s owners wrapped the breathing infant in a biohazard bag, and threw her out.

The defenders of abortion-on-demand will, of course, decry this horrid aberration. The president of the Broward County chapter of the National Organization for Women talked about how important it is to be sure women don’t go to “these types” of clinics. But is it really an aberration? True, one doesn’t see stories like this at all frequently — yet. But one line in this story reflects, in my opinion, a very clear sign of the true state of affairs: “The case has riled the anti-abortion community, which contends the clinic’s actions constitute murder.”

According to the autopsy report, the baby filled her lungs with air. There is nothing to contend. There is nothing to discuss, nothing to debate. The clinic owner murdered the baby. If this was not murder, plain and simple, then any baby, any terminally ill patient, anyone with a birth defect or mental retardation can be “put out of their misery” without hesitation, the philosophy of Peter Singer made real. And by claiming that only the “anti-abortion” community “contends” that suffocating a baby is murder, CBS News has declared that the entire “pro-abortion” camp shares Singer’s lack of moral compass.

What is truly frightening is that I’m not at all sure that CBS is wrong.

For years, writers here and elsewhere have warned of the slippery slope from abortion to infanticide. The idea that a fetus inside a woman can be discarded like a scab, but once breathing five minutes later is a human being, whose life cannot be taken under penalty of death (in many states), is inherently irrational. Faced with decades of contradiction and conflict, it is only natural to begin to wonder why a baby born with a serious defect shouldn’t be hurried out of the world in the interests of saving him or her a life of “pain” and thousands of dollars of medical costs. Never mind the fact that the grown thalidomide babies, much less those with Down’s Syndrome, are less likely than the rest of us to desire to end their own lives… society claims to know better, and thus thousands of such children are denied the right to experience life outside the womb every year.

In closing, I’d like to quote one of the comments on the story, which was the most recently posted when I retrieved the page. I think it needs no comment.

Almost 18 years ago as a college freshman, I considered having an abortion because I was so afraid of being ill-equipped as a parent. I thought that I would have to put everything I had worked for on pause, only to not be able to do a good job anyway. I entered the clinic and while I was in the waiting area a nurse came out into the hall and threw someone’s baby into a bag like refuse… I thought my heart had stopped; my mind had definitely frozen. I stood to my feet, gathered my courage, got my money back and went shopping for my son…The Best Money I Ever Spent. He is now 17, graduating high school, never a day of trouble. He is so incredible, and I am so thankful.

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12 comments to Whatever Your Politics

  • Chaim Fisher

    Rabbi Menken, you have such a great story here-and so great an observation, that CBS says only we “contend” that this was murder.

    Their boo-boo is striking and should be brought to the world’s attention. They really blew it.

    But why end with your infanticide “threat?” Murder is going on all the time in our hospitals. It’s called DNR, when doctors and nurses sit around a person clutching his throat and crying for a breathing tube (they cost 5 dollars and are at every nurse’s station) and watch him die. Or, worse, pulling the lung machine off a functioning person, drugging him, and watching him fight like an ox to breath for an hour or so. Until he dies.

    These things go on all day long in every city of the US. Yuk.

  • Garnel Ironheart

    In the absence of an objective, external moral authority, any self-imposed red lines will shift with tie and fashion. How arbitrary is the line that says that a living infant inside a uterus can be murdered with impunity but once it sticks its head out into the world it can’t? This baby was murdered immediately after death. What is the mom decided she didn’t want it the next morning? Why would that suddenly be wrong?
    How arbitrary is the line that says that a person who is suffering in the end stages of cancer has a “right” to euthanize themselves but a person who was just diagnosed and can look forward to such a horrible end can’t right then and there?
    The unspeakable becomes the speakble in slow but steady steps. The events in this article show the red line just moved left a couple of inches.

  • Lawrence M. Reisman

    CBS reports that the woman was pregnant for 23 weeks. That makes this a third trimester abortion, which states are allowed to make illegal even under Roe v. Wade. Therefore, this abortion should be illegal even under current law. That having been said, this case has very little relevance to the vast majority of abortions which are performed in the first and second trimesters.

  • Nachum

    It’s not clear that this was “murder”, that is, whether the baby was alive when it was disposed of.

    In any event, this story does show the shockingly cavalier attitude some abortionists can have toward unwanted babies.

  • Charlie Hall

    Lawrence Reisman #3,

    While Florida does ban third-trimester abortions, trimesters are 13 weeks long so this would have been a second-trimester abortion. Today, more and more abortions are being done non-surgically at an earlier point in pregnancy; it is impossible to tell how many because medical abortions do not have to be reported to the government.

  • Leah

    I am sitting here at my computer having gotten up from lying down in bed talking to my unborn almost 21 week old beautiful baby in my womb.
    Sometimes we can speak of what is so obvious to us and yet to be rationalized away by others who want nothing more than to be “free.”
    Two points come to mind:
    The quote is from Rav Avi Shafran: “To be sure, people tend to resist reasonability when it leads to where they prefer not to go.”
    Whether it is the Women’s Now Organization or the woman requesting her unborn baby to be legally killed (not for life or death/medical purposes that affect the mother), or the nurse/ doctor performing the abortion. Does this not make them physically ill from the emotional heartbreak?
    Point number two:
    With all of my G-d given understanding how could anyone in their right mind possibly murder an unborn fully breathing, functioning kicking, tapping little innocent baby from their life source and watch this procedure and turn their back, close their eyes?
    This, I believe, is the answer that I would like to know. Why is it that there are so many people that do not value life or see that an unborn baby is living?

  • Noam

    Rabbi Menken gives us the quote:

    “The case has riled the anti-abortion community, which contends the clinic’s actions constitute murder.”

    And he uses this quote to “prove” that “CBS News has declared that the entire “pro-abortion” camp shares…[a] lack of moral compass”, and that furthermore he is “not at all sure that CBS is wrong.” He bases this conclusion on “the slippery slope from abortion to infanticide.”

    And now the facts. CBS also wrote: “What Williams and the Health Department say happened next has shocked people on both sides of the abortion debate.” One can probably assume that someone in favor of infantacide would not be shocked by the killing of a baby. Rabbi Menken conveniently discounts the comments of the President of the Broward county NOW organization, but nowhere in those comments or anywhere else is there any inkling that anyone supported this action. The statement of “the anti- abortionists contends the clinic’s actions constitute murder” says ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about what the pro-choice position contains. One likely reason this sentence was written as it was is that the ant- abortionists, like Rabbi Menken, want to use this incident as a cudgel to beat up those who are pro-choice. But, nowhere is there any evidence that the pro-choice ‘movement’ approves of this action, and is not equally horrified.

    Finally, Rabbi Menken does not acknowledge that there is a place for abortion in Jewish law, and the Jewish view is absolutely not the same as the dominant Christian view. He seems to ignore Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg, the Tzietz Eliezer, who ruled that fetuses diagnosed with Tay-Sachs disease in some situations could be aborted. The presence of a slippery slope means that we have to be very careful, not that we have to cancel Halacha.

  • Jacob Suslovich

    Does not Halacha differentiate between the status of “a fetus inside a woman” which can be killed to save the mothers life and one who is breathing five minutes later who can not be killed even to save the mother’s life. Is this distinction “inherently irrational” ?

  • Lawrence M. Reisman

    Dear Charles:

    You are right and my math was off. However, Roe v. Wade did give the states the right to regulate second trimester abortions, which means that Florida could legislate that they occur in hospitals, and that proper precautions are taken to insure that a baby born alive is kept alive.

  • Yaakov Menken

    Jacob, Halacha does not say that a fetus is nothing, able to be discarded indiscriminately. Noam’s reference to the Tzitz Eliezer is similarly without bearing, referring as it does to the unique circumstance in which a child is guaranteed a brief and painful life. And even there, of course, the Tzitz Eliezer is a lone voice against an overwhelming dissent.

    The self-contradiction in American law is even more obvious when you consider that in California, if a man shoots a woman in the stomach on her way to the abortion clinic, killing her unborn baby, the charge is murder.

    Noam’s valiant attempt to obfuscate the reality falls miserably flat in this case. Everyone is shocked by the callous nature of the clinic owner’s actions, as I pointed out in my original article, but that doesn’t mean they are ready to call it murder. Garnel puts it so well: “The unspeakable becomes the speakable in slow but steady steps.”

    Noam distorts the quotation from the news article by omitting the word which — a pronoun that is used “in a clause that provides additional information about the antecedent” or “that defines or restricts the antecedent.” It may be true that “the anti-abortionists contends [sic] the clinic’s actions constitute murder” says “ABSOLUTELY NOTHING” about the pro-abortionists, but that’s entirely irrelevant. The news article referenced “the anti-abortion community, which contends the clinic’s actions constitute murder” before going on to discuss the reaction of the pro-abortion NOW spokesperson. In context, the article implies a great, great deal about the position of those in favor of abortion on demand.

    Perhaps bowing to the unambiguous language of the quote itself, Noam then offers up the idea that CBS News constructed the sentence to suit the pro-lifers: “One likely reason this sentence was written as it was is that the ant- abortionists, like Rabbi Menken, want to use this incident as a cudgel to beat up those who are pro-choice.” The article contrasts the “anti-abortion community” with “those who support abortion rights.” I’m sure that language, as well, was written as those on the pro-life side of the debate would prefer. That would be in line with CBS News’ long history of being right-wing and pro-life in its biases.

    And the moon is made of cheese.

  • Noam

    Rabbi Menken reports that the CBS article quoted one side as saying this was ‘murder.’ The other side was quoted to say that it was important for women not to go to clinics like this. Rabbi Menken then comes to the conclusion that the second side doesn’t think it was murder. By his own logic, we should also think that the anti-abortion side doesn’t see a problem with women going to clinics like this.

    Rabbi Menken similarly is inaccurate in representing halachic positions on abortion. Rabbi Waldenberg is considered a minority opinion, but certainly is one that can be relied upon. He is absolutely not “a lone voice against overwhelming dissent”, but is based on the responsa of Maharit (R. Joseph Trani) and She’elat Ya’vetz (R. Jacob Emden). He approach is shared by RYBS among others. Making it seem that no one paskens like Rav Waldenberg is not only wrong but incorrect.

    Rabbi Menken is also wrong about the circumstances where Rabbi Waldenberg permits abortion. From ‘Jewish Medical Law’ by Rav Avraham Steinberg, MD(compiled and edited from the Tzitz Eliezer):
    In circumstances where the pregnancy is detrimental to the mother’s health, although not life threatening, there is justification for permitting termination of the pregnancy. Examples are: Borderline physical health of the mother, very closely spced pregnancies where the mother is very weak, and where pregnancy results in obvious physical suffereing and emotional illness to the mother. Further, a married woman who willfully conceived froma man other than her husband(even if the baby will not be a mamzer) is permitted to abort the fetus. If there is a substantial risk that the fetus would be born with a deformity that would cause it to suffer, it is permitted to terminate the pregnancy within the first three months. In circumstances where it has been conclusively proven that the fetus will be afflicted with tay-Sachs diesase, it is permitted to perform an abortion up to the seventh month of pregnancy.(pages 102-104).

    Judaism is totally against abortion on demand. Killing new-born babies is murder. These views should be very clear. But it is also wrong to adopt Christian views on abortion and have them be the law of the land, which will eliminate Halacha and endanger mothers, which is also against halacha.

  • Yaakov Menken

    And it is also wrong to falsify quotations in order to “prove” a point.

    Since the link to the article is readily available, I see no reason to go back & forth with Noam about the plain meaning of the words on the page, which he insists upon quoting inaccurately. The assertion that “the anti-abortion community” called this murder comes from no quotation at all, but from the reporter’s own assessment of the feelings on both sides. [Since, on the other hand, the article says “Even those who support abortion rights are concerned about the allegations,” it is obvious that the pro-life side is at least equally concerned about every aspect of what transpired, while, of course, the “clinics” comment to which Noam refers was in a quotation from the NOW spokesperson.] Noam can continue to attempt to rewrite the story as much as he desires, but there is now a considerable amount of comment on the Internet (from liberal sources) bemoaning the failure of pro-abortion groups to more vocally call this infanticide.

    A Da’as Yachid, opinion of one individual, doesn’t refer to an individual who made up his opinion from whole cloth, without basis in any previous generation. As the Maharit passed away nearly 400 years ago, and R’ Yaakov Emden was niftar 3 months before the Declaration of Independence, neither of them could be termed a contemporary. While I am no expert in the opinion of the Tzitz Eliezer (and never claimed otherwise), it is inarguable that the majority opinion is that even a baby with Tay-Sachs should not be aborted — much less any of the other cases cited — thus the overwhelming likelihood of Orthodox mothers to refuse amniocentisis (testing of the amniotic fluid).

    The only way any of the above could be even remotely perceived as germane to what happened in Florida goes back to Noam’s initial claim that I did not “acknowledge” that there is a place for abortion in Jewish law. That is, to put it simply, silly. In Jewish law, abortion is mandated when the fetus is liable to kill the mother, and nothing that I said in my article said or implied otherwise.

    What I called dangerous was “the idea that a fetus inside a woman can be discarded like a scab,” not the idea that a pregnancy can be terminated in order to save the mother’s life. If some cannot see the difference, is that not further evidence of the problem?