Abortion, and Child Abuse

Abortion, And Child Abuse

by Rubel Shelly

Published in LoveLines (Aug. 21, 1996)

Was It an Oversight?

One of the strongest and best op-ed pieces I have read in a long time was run in the New York Times of July 30, 1996. "Protect the Innocent" was written by someone who has experience in the field of child protection services and therefore merits serious reading.

Patrick T. Murphy, an attorney, has been the Public Guardian of Cook County, Illinois, since 1978. He is obviously fed up with child abuse and wants society to get serious about protecting its most defenseless members.

For example, he tells of a woman whose boyfriend beat her newborn child to death in 1987. The murdered baby was her seventh child. Since then, she has had six more. All were born with cocaine in their systems. Three had syphilis. The last four were HIV-positive at birth.

Yes, it is a serious intrusion into personal and family life for some government agency to intervene on behalf of children. Yes, there are cases on record where Big Brother has overstepped the bounds and brought charges against a mother or father for spanking a child. But there are reasonable guidelines under which someone must step forward on behalf of the victims.

Mr. Murphy makes a strong case when he writes: "The nation’s first juvenile court was established in 1899 in Illinois to protect children abused or neglected by their parents. Government intervention in family life was considered radical because children were viewed as their parents’ property. Today, such intervention is common. But we need to take it a step further, to protect defenseless unborn children from abuse. Such intervention must be exercised with great legal restraint and only with credible evidence that the fetus’ health is at risk."

He suggests requiring any woman who has had two children with drugs in their systems or who has one child born with HIV to appear before a judge. The judge could mandate medical therapy and counseling. Another pregnancy would immediately require her to seek more medical and psychological help. If she refused, she could be prosecuted on charges of criminal child abuse or assault. She could even be sent to jail — with her children put into foster care.

I read the article wondering if anyone else saw its glaring inconsistency. The most obvious, direct, and fatal abuse of an unborn child is abortion. And it is legally protected as a woman’s private decision about the innocent life in her womb.

Either Mr. Murphy’s argument against abuse of unborn infants has cogency and power — in which case our culture must rethink its laissez faire attitude toward abortion on demand — or his case against abusing unborn babies by any and all methods is to be rejected out of hand.

Was it an oversight that the piece didn’t include abortion along with drug use and HIV infection among potential abuses of unborn children? Or is its omission a symptom of our culture’s blindness on this issue? I couldn’t help wondering.

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