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KNOWLES: Kill Them Now, Or Don't Kill Them

Finally, an honest abortion debate.

Christopher Furlong / Getty
 

John Rogers may be the most honest politician in America. During a debate over new abortion restrictions, the Alabama legislator observed that abortion kills an unborn baby and that unborn babies are people. The pro-life movement has spent decades arguing these points. But Rogers recited these facts in favor of abortion.

 

"Some kids are unwanted," he explained in a now-viral video clip. “So you kill them now, or you kill them later. You bring them into the world unwanted, unloved, then send them to the electric chair. So you kill them now, or you kill them later.” Horrified pro-life advocates throughout the country condemned Rogers. If anything, we ought to thank him.

Abortion kills, as Rogers notes. It doesn’t kill platypuses or giraffes. Abortion kills human babies — the very same humans he believes we would otherwise need to kill later. Rogers uses the same pronoun "them" to refer to the unborn babies and the babies as adults because adults are just grown-up babies. We do not gain or surrender our personhood as we age. We live one life from conception to death.

The Alabama legislator justifies abortion by suggesting that unwanted babies inevitably grow up to become criminals. Not only do they become criminals, he insists, but they commit capital offenses and wind up on the electric chair. Far better, he argues, to kill the kids before they ever have the chance really to live.

Rogers argues like a pyromaniac in a field of straw men. To begin, no baby in the United States is unwanted. Two million American couples are currently waiting to adopt, which works out to 36 waiting families for every one child placed for adoption. None of those babies will meet his end in the electric chair, if for no other reason than the United States rarely actually executes death row inmates and almost never does so with the chair. Last year, just 25 death row inmates met their maker. Only two of those, both in Tennessee, faced electrocution. As states increasingly refuse to carry out capital punishment, many condemned inmates will more likely die of old age than execution.

 

So we likely won’t "kill them later." But what of Rogers’ underlying premise? Do "unwanted" babies inevitably commit serious crimes? In the mid-2000s, the popular economics book "Freakonomics" popularized the Donohue-Levitt hypothesis, which holds that falling crime rates in recent decades owe to the legalization of abortion. As many scholars have discovered in the ensuing years, this argument "breaks down under the scrutiny of robustness checks."

But even if a link between unwanted-ness and crime did exist, does Representative Rogers really believe that we ought to murder innocent people on the statistical likelihood that they might commit a crime in the future? We might just as easily apply his logic to other demographic categories, such as race and sex. Certain racial and sexual demographics commit a vastly disproportionate share of crime, including capital crimes. Does Rogers believe we ought to have the right to murder people on the basis of their race and sex?

Rogers then moved the goalposts. "The child could be retarded, half deformed," he warned. Now not only the prospect of future criminality but also intelligence and physical appearance justify murder, according to the legislator. Unfortunately, many people agree with Rogers' views. In the United States, 67-85% of babies with Down syndrome are killed before birth. In recent years, Iceland has killed nearly all babies deemed likely to be born with Down syndrome.

 

If a dim intellect justifies murder, Rogers might want to rethink his argument. The majority of Americans have an IQ between 80 and 120. One suspects politicians cluster toward the lower end of that spectrum. An IQ below 70-75 qualifies someone as mentally retarded. At what arbitrary intellectual cutoff might John Rogers’ logic imperil his own life?

Which physical deformities does Rogers believe justify murder? If a baby develops without a few fingers or toes, should we snuff him out in the womb? What if his nose is a little crooked, or he won’t grow to six feet tall?

Representative Rogers articulates the logic of abortion more clearly than his ideological allies. "You kill them now, or you kill them later." In an important sense, he’s right: the moral perversity of murdering someone for his race, sex, intelligence, physical appearance, or — most disturbing of all — for being "unwanted" and "unloved" doesn’t change just because you do it in the womb.

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