THE BLOG
05/26/2005 03:42 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Arguing Against Protecting Embryos:

I don't oppose medical procedures that involve the death of very young embryos; I therefore may agree with Erica Jong on the bottom line here more than with President Bush. Yet it seems to me that her argument a few posts down has an important weakness, one that it shares with many others' arguments on the subject. Let me present an argument based on her first two paragraphs, but with a small but global change:

Who can doubt that encouraging infertile couples adopt [babies] is a good thing? . . . But until Bush and Laura themselves adopt all the [babies] that might otherwise be doomed to waste their sweetness on the desert air, his [opposition to infanticide] will be show and tell and nothing more.

If every three-day-old [baby] has the legal protection of a human life, how far are we from the time that [fetuses] are also protected as incipient human lives? . . .

I take it that few of us would accept this argument. Infanticide is wrong, we'd say, and we can oppose infanticide even if we don't ourselves adopt unwanted infants. What's more, the risk of a slippery slope (a concern that I take quite seriously) shouldn't stop us from protecting babies; infanticide should be outlawed even though it's quite plausible that such a prohibition would lead others -- and does lead others -- to argue for banning abortion.

Now of course one can distinguish infanticide from embryocide. I do. There are lots of arguments for drawing such distinctions. (Ms. Jong's third and fourth paragraphs may be read as offering some, but if so they strike me as quite unpersuasive: That embryos often naturally die is no justification for killing them, just as the historically very high natural infant mortality rates were no justification for deliberate infanticide.)

But it is those arguments that must do the work. Complaints that critics of feticide (or infanticide) aren't willing to adopt the unwanted babies, or that there's a slippery slope risk, or that some women "eventually reach a point where they have more children than they can care for psychologically and financially" are, it seems to me, red herrings, as the infanticide analogy shows.