Friday, June 18, 2010

No Baby Is Viable

It fascinates me that Blackmun cites Plato and Aristotle for his viability doctrine. Plato and Aristotle obviously don't have incubators. They have nothing to do with the specifics of our abortion jurisprudence. So why quote Plato and Aristotle?

Sure, he's name-dropping. He wants to hitch his Harry Blackmun wagon to the mighty train that is Plato and Aristotle. But he may also be talking about viability in a broader sense. In Roe, Blackmun defines viability as "the point at which the potentially able to live outside the mother's womb, albeit with artificial aid." It makes no sense to quote Plato and Aristotle in regard to incubators. So he is not citing them for the narrow definition of viability, whether a baby can survive in an artificial womb. He is citing them for the broader definition of viability. Viability is survivability. It is a measure of a baby's ability to survive.

The ancient Greeks, like our unelected Supreme Court, are not concerned if the baby is alive or not. Roe v. Wade explicitly states that the baby's life is irrelevant to its opinion. "We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins." Roe v. Wade asks a different question. Is the baby viable? It is not a question of whether the baby is alive, but whether she could survive in a harsh environment outside the womb. And this is exactly the same attitude the ancient Greeks had. Could the baby survive if you left her on a hillside somewhere? Viability is exposure.

The problem with the viability standard is that no baby can survive on her own. An unborn baby needs the protection of her mother's womb. If you expose her to the elements, she will likely die. If she is old enough, and you expose her to the elements, she might live. But she only lives if you take affirmative steps to keep her alive. For instance, if you place her in an incubator. A baby is not going to crawl into an incubator and turn it on herself. A baby is helpless. If no adult in the room cares for the baby, then the baby will die. Babies by definition are non-viable. If viability is your standard, then you are inviting infanticide, just as the ancient Greeks did, because babies cannot survive without love and attention from adults.

The Greeks were concerned with autonomy, or self-rule. Defenders of Roe often speak of the mother's right of autonomy. Autonomy means self-rule. "You cannot tell me what to do, I will govern myself." A baby, of course, cannot govern herself. A baby cannot feed herself or shelter herself. So a baby, unlike a woman, is not autonomous. This is why, I think, defenders of
Roe do not concern themselves with the life or death question. The baby's helplessness, her non-autonomy, marks her as sub-human and beneath our concern.

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