Kill the Premature Infants — They Cause Too Much Stress

The United States is a bit odd — on the one hand we have some of the least restrictive abortions laws in the world, while simultaneously also generally going far beyond what hospitals in other countries will attempt to save very premature births (which is one of the major reasons the U.S. infant mortality rate appears so much higher than comparable countries).

In Europe, however, it’s become fashionable for the intellectual elite to ponder whether or not it might be better to actively euthanize such infants who may have a “poor quality of life”.

An unsigned article/editorial published in the November 9, 2006 edition of The Economist does an excellent job of showing the dangers of going down that route.

Responding to a Nuffield Council on Bioethics report that recommending broader public debate about active euthanasia of infants, The Economist wrote,

There is another reason, too, why baby euthanasia needs discussing, but talking about it is virtually taboo. Families who bring up massively handicapped children often find the stress too much for them.

Take the case of Charlotte Wyatt, born at 26 weeks in 2003 with severe disabilities. Her doctors wanted to withhold treatment but her parents argued successfully that she should be kept alive. Now the parents have separated and Charlotte is up for adoption. Disabled children are nine times more likely than others to end up in the care of the state.

Tiny babies do tug at the heartstrings but raising a severely impaired child is heartbreakingly hard. It is brave of doctors to question whether they should save the life of each and every one.

The Charlotte Wyatt case does raise a number of questions about the sort of care offered to premature infants. Only weighing 1 pound at birth, Wyatt suffers from brain damage and lung problems. Three years after her birth, she has to be constantly hooked up to oxygen and fed through a nose tube.

Total costs of keeping her alive so far have topped 1.1 million pounds. No one would (or should) object if her parents were footing that bill, but under Great Britain’s socialized health care system the 1.1 million pounds spent taking care of Charlotte Wyatt is 1.1 million pounds that can’t be spent addressing other health care concerns.

There will always be questions in cases like Charlotte’s over just how much extraordinary (and incredibly expensive) medical intervention should be undertaken.

But it is a huge jump from that cost-benefit driven issue to whether or not Charlotte should have been euthanized because she would stress her parents out.

It is true, as The Economist writes, that “now the parents have separated and Charlotte is up for adoption,” but this is a bit of a lie through omission. Yes, her parents have separated, but both Debbie and Darren Wyatt have also cited the legal battle they had to fight to obtain life saving support for their daughter as a major strain on their marriage. One could just as easily deduce from the episode that the state and hospitals should immediately give in to such requests, because doing otherwise could dissolve the marital bonds of the two people most able to care for the child in question.

Second, The Economist gives the impression that Charlotte’s health problems are so severe that her parents no longer want to care for her. In fact, her father has applied to the court overseeing the case to have Charlotte come home to live with him, but that court has ruled that a single parent is incapable of meeting all of Charlotte’s medical needs. Instead, she is expected to be released to foster care once she is well enough (and presumably if her parents reconcile or remarry, they might regain custody of Charlotte provided they can demonstrate they can adequately care for Charlotte).

The Economist’s view that it is “brave” to consider actively terminating a child’s life to avoid undue stress on the parents is very close to Peter Singer’s formulation that we should not consider infants as “persons” until they reach their 31st day of life. After all why stop at stress caused by severe disabilities? Taking care of an healthy child can be extremely stressful, especially for women predisposed to having post-partum depression. If the amount of stress an infant will impose upon its parents is a valid consideration in deciding whether or not to kill a baby, then why not for other cases where even infants with mild disabilities (or, in the extreme, even perfectly health infants) may impose great stress on their parents?

Which is exactly why active euthanasia should be completely off the table when it comes to medical interventions with infants.


Suffer the little children. The Economist, November 9, 2006.

Baby Charlotte faces foster care as parents can’t cope. Neil Sears & Dan Newling, The Daily Mail, October 16, 2006.

Charlotte Wyatt set to be fostered. Portsmouth.Co.Uk, December 20, 2006.

Does Abortion Cause Women to Be Physically Abusive?

Does abortion cause women to be more likely to physically abuse their children? That’s how research by Bowling Green State University professor Priscilla Coleman is being portrayed by conservative news outlets like The Washington Times, but the claim largely falls apart on close examination.

Coleman studied 518 low-income women in Baltimore that included 118 abusive mothers, 119 neglecting mothers, and 281 mothers with no history of either neglect or abuse. Out of that sample, Coleman found that women who had experienced any sort of pregnancy loss, such as an abortion of miscarriage, had a 99 percent higher risk of abusing their children than those who had never had an abortion according to the Washington Times.

The Times quotes Coleman as saying,

There’s a good number of women who have abortions, experience it as a … loss with bereavement, some guilt — guilt is a pretty common experience with abortion. Those kind of effects could cause anger, and we know parents who abuse their children often have anger-control issues.

But does this really tell us that having an abortion is linked to physical abuse of children? Consider another study that Coleman did that used just this sort of methodology.

For a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Coleman examined 56,000 women who were part of California’s Medicaid program. Of that sample, 15,000 had had abortions, compared to 41,000 who had not. Coleman then tracked admissions for psychiatric illnesses by the women in the year after they either had an abortion or gave birth.

Only 0.7 percent of women who gave birth were hospitalized for psychiatric problems, while 1.5 percent of the women who had an abortion were hospitalized for psychiatric problems in the following year. Moreover, women who had abortions had a 160 percent higher risk of being admitted to a hospital for psychiatric women in the first 90 days after having an abortion than did women who gave birth in the first 90 days afterward. After four years, however, the women who had abortions only had a 50 percent higher risk of hospitalization for a psychiatric condition as compared to the women who gave birth.

But as even Coleman herself acknowledged, what these studies cannot tell us is if women who have abortions are more likely to be abusive or suffer psychiatric problems or if women more likely to be abusive or suffer psychiatric problems are also simply more likely to have abortions. As Arizona State University professor Nancy Russo told the Toledo Blade,

It is just as plausible that the direction of causality is reversed . . . that psychiatric problems cause women who become pregnant to feel less capable of raising a child and to terminate their pregnancy.

Coleman agrees, telling the Toledo Blade,

There are a whole lot of factors that lead up to the decision [to have an abortion], a whole lot of lifestyle circumstances, and that can be predictive. So when you look at the negative effects, what are you really looking at? is it a product of their choice? Or are they experiencing depression or whatever because they were battered? Or because of the abortion? It’s hard to tease apart.

All of these comments apply equally to the claim about abortion and child abuse being linked. It could be that women who are more likely to abuse children are also more likely to have abortions.


After decades of research, evaluationg abortion’s effect still difficult. Jenni Laidman, Toledo Blade, January 22, 2004.

Abuse risk linked to abortion. Shepherd Pittman, The Washington Times, November 3, 2005.

Abortion Linked to Abuse. Josh Montez, Family.Org, December 30, 2005.

Local Paper Screws Up Abortion Story

This sort of story always annoys the hell out of me. The writer here, Emily Walker, had prime front page space for this story about the morning after pill and whether or not it reduces the number of abortions. But instead of helping the reader understand whether or not the morning after pill affects abortion rates, she simply drones on with pointless quotes from different interest groups.

You know its going to be a lousy story when the writer leads off with a statement that is never actually corroborated in the body of the story. So Walker writes,

Southwestern Michigan in 2004 saw its lowest abortion rates in more than a decade, which may be tied to a rapid increase in sales and use of an emergency contraceptive pill and hormonal birth control since 2000.

But there is absolutely no evidence that the abortion rate declined. Rather what declined was the total number of abortions. If the number of abortions declined from 20 per 1,000 to 10 per 1,000, then the rate of abortions has changed. The fact that there were 18 percent fewer abortions in 2004 compared to 1994 just says there are fewer total abortions. But the abortion rate could actually have increased but still result in fewer abortions.

How could that possibly be? Well, one possibility is that there are fewer abortions because there are fewer women of childbearing age in Southwest Michigan. Perhaps women are leaving this part of the state for other parts of the state or even other states. Or perhaps demographic changes such as the increasing aging of the American population or the increasing age at which people get married in the U.S. has also effected Michigan. Don’t worry though, Walker’s article is 100% free of any discussion of demographics that might illuminate a bit better why the total number of abortions declined over a 10 year period.

Something else that might be useful to know is whether or not the birth rate in Southwest Michigan has remained stable or not. If the abortion rate fell, for example, but the birth rate rose, then the hypothesis about the morning after pill would be much weaker. According to the state of Michigan, births are declining overall in Michigan because of the overall aging of the population, which would also tend to reduce the number of abortions. But, that sort of information just couldn’t make it into an article filled with pithy comments such as,

“We attribute it mostly to use of emergency contraceptives,” said Joy Brychta, director of Client Services for Planned Parenthood of South Central Michigan. “As our abortions go down, emergency contraception is skyrocketing.”

I’m sure Ms. Brychta is a nice woman, but what she or Planned Parenthood or Right to Life or the United Nations attribute the drop to is completely irrelevant.

It might also have been helpful to know how abortion rates in other parts of the United States, especially in the Midwest, compare with Michigan’s (assuming we knew what Michigan’s rate was). But all we learn from Walker is,

Michigan as a whole actually saw a four-year upswing in abortions before 2004. Nationwide, numbers have steadily declined in the past two decades.

How big of an upswing? How big of a decline? How about the abortion rate in a nearby state such as Ohio? If the abortion rate has been steadily declining nationwide, is there some demographic trend that Michigan’s finally catching up to? Again, no solid facts, but plenty of nonsense like,

“Those, I suppose, may be factors,” said Right to Life Kalamazoo President Rob Karrer. “But I really do believe that Michigan has been a leader in the country regarding declining abortion rates because of the aggressive nature of the Legislature dealing with the issue.”

Again, I’m sure Mr. Karrer is a nice man, but what he believes might be interesting for a story about whether or not abortion is moral, but it is irrelevant to the issue at hand. And, of course, if Michigan is in the lead in abortion regulation, why that apparent increase from 2000-04?


Abortions decline; cause debated. Emily Walker, Kalamazoo Gazette, August 22, 2005.

Conference Hears Testimony of Forced Abortion In North Korea

The 6th International Conference on North Korean Human Rights and Refugees heard testimony in February about alleged forced abortions and infanticide in North Korean prison camps.

Using the alias Park Sun-ja, a 28-year-old defector from North Korea testified that she witnessed both infanticide and forced abortion at Shinuiju Provincial Detention Camp where she had been held for two months in 2000 after having been caught after having crossed into China.

Sun-ja testified that,

I heard the cries of both mother and child through the curtain (at a hospital). And through the partially open curtain, I witnessed the nurse covering the infant’s face with a wet towel on a table, suffocating it. The baby stopped crying about ten minutes later.

Sun-ja testifed that injections to induce miscarriage among pregnant women at the camp were routine.

She also testified to being abused and witnessing abuse by guards at the camp, including,

Severe beatings through the use of sticks, fists (punching), and feet (kicking) were standard practice. Cells were infested with insects, fleas, lice, and other parasites. It was disgusting.

Sun-ja’s testimony obviously needs to be taken with some bit of skepticism given that it was given pseudonymously, but given the immense secrecy in North Korea and other atrocities committed by the regime that we do know about, what she describe is certainly plausible.


N.K. defector claimed forced abortions. The Korea Herald, February 7, 2005.

U.S. Asserts that Beijing Declaration Didn’t Create Right to Abortion

The United States angered abortion supporters when it filed two amendments at a ten-year review of the 1995 Beijing declaration insisting that the declaration did not create a right to abortion.

The Beijing declaration is a 150-page statement calling for an improvement in the condition of women worldwide, in areas as diverse as education, health care, politics and, of course, sexuality.

Efforts were made at the time to explicitly refer to abortion as a right in the declaration, but these were rejected by governments that have restrictive polices on abortion. The United States, under President Bill Clinton, supported efforts to declare abortion a right. Instead the declaration mad generic statements such as asserting that nations should,

Ensure equal access to and equal treatment of women and men in education and health care and enhance women’s sexual and reproductive health as well as education

It also asserts that women have the right to,

. . . decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality . . . free of coercion, discrimination and violence.

At this year’s meeting of the United Nations Committee on the Status of Women, the United States submitted an amendment it wanted added to any reaffirmation of the Beijing Declaration. The amendments would have added language that declared that “while reaffirming [the Beijing Declaration] that they do not create any new international human rights, and that they do not include the right to abortion”

The amendments met with strong opposition, and for awhile bogged down the reaffirmation process. Eventually, however, the United States withdrew its amendments. The U.S. representative on the Committee, Ellen Sauerbrey, delivered a statement to the committee from Condoleeza Rice which read, in part,

As colleagues in this meeting know, the United States has had concerns about efforts to mischaracterize the outcome documents of Beijing and Beijing+5 in creation of new international rights. It is clear that there was no intent on the part of States supporting the Beijing documents to create new rights. While those documents express important political goals, they do not create rights or legally binding obligations on States under international law, including the right to abortion. The United States recognizes the International Conference on Population and Development principle that abortion policies are a matter of national sovereignty. And, we are pleased that so many other governments have indicated their agreement with this position, and we anticipate that we can now focus clearly on addressing the many urgent needs of women around the world.

Apparently the United States concluded it got what it wanted by making it clear that by reaffirming the Beijing Declaration it was not affirming any sort of right to abortion.


U.S. Pushes U.N. on Abortion Declaration. Associated Press, March 28, 2005.

US sparks row at UN over abortion. The BBC, February 28, 2005.

Women?s Leaders Welcome U.S. Decision To Rejoin Global Consensus for Women?s Human Rights. PlanetWire.Org, March 4, 2005.

Statement by the United States Representative to the Commission on the Status of Women. Press Release, United States Mission to the United Nations, March 2, 2005.

Fourth World Conference on Women Beijing Declaration. 1995.

Kansas Supreme Court Weighs Attorney General’s Request for Abortion Records

The Kansas Supreme Court is currently weighing a controversial request by Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline who wants access to a number of medical records from abortion clinics in Kansas.

Kline wants the records of about 90 women who had abortions in Kansas. He is requesting records of young girls who had abortions and records of abortions later than the 22nd week.

On the young girls count, Kline argues that he needs the records to see if a crime was involved. According to Kline,

When a 10-, 11- or 12-year-old child is pregnant, under Kansas law that child has been raped, and as the state’s chief law enforcement official it is my obligation to investigate child rape in order to protect Kansas children. There are two things that child predators want, access to children and secrecy. As attorney general, I’m bound and determined not to give them either.

According to the New York Times, state records show that 78 girls under the age of 15 received abortions in Kansas in 2003.

Kline is also reportedly seeking records of abortions performed after the 22nd week. Kansas has a law — which Kline helped write while he served in the Kansas legislature — which severely restricts but doesn’t not altogether ban abortion after the 22nd week.

Kansas has become a lightning rod in the debate over post-22nd week abortions, however, due to Dr. George Tiller who runs an abortion clinic in Wichita and reportedly performs hundreds of late term abortions annually. Tiller’s abortion clinic is one of two clinics from which Kline has subpoenaed records.

Those opposed to Kline’s request argue that it is little more than a fishing expedition that would violate the privacy of women who seek abortions and likely create a chilling effect among women afraid to have an abortion for fear that their private medical records might be subpoenaed. As Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America told the New York Times,

The vast majority of Americans will rightly be appalled at the notion of a state official issuing a mass subpoena about the most private, personal information there is.

The Kansas Supreme Court heard arguments in February in the case, is expected to rule on the issue later this year.


Kansas prosecutor demands files on late-term abortion patients. Jodi Wilgoren, The New York Times, February 24, 2005.

Kansas demands late abortion data. The BBC, February 25, 2005.

Medical-Record War Heats Up Christianity Today, May 2005.