This is what Mark Steyn called it. Is he fair in doing so?
Here are the basics of the awful story:
Katrina Effert was 19 on April 13, 2005, when she secretly gave birth in her parents’ home, strangled the baby boy with her underwear and threw the body over a fence into a neighbour’s yard.
In a recent legal ruling, it was determined that Katrina would get no jail time for this act. Steyn and many in the pro-life community interpret this as just a logical extension of the reasoning of abortion. Yes, an infant is a human being, but such a being is not yet morally valuable because she is not yet rational or self-aware or able to exchange in sophisticated relationships. If her mother doesn’t want to be her mother anymore, or anyone else to be her mother (i.e. drop the baby off at the hospital no questions asked), then she may have an ‘abortion’ because it is her right to choose. And the judge herself (who overturned the decision of two Canadian juries to consider this second degree murder) used to similar reasoning:
The fact that Canada has no abortion laws reflects that “while many Canadians undoubtedly view abortion as a less than ideal solution to unprotected sex and unwanted pregnancy, they generally understand, accept and sympathize with the onerous demands pregnancy and childrbirth exact from mothers, especially mothers without support,” she writes.
The judge noted that infanticide laws and sentencing guidelines were not altered when the government made many changes to the Criminal Code in 2005, which she says shows that Canadians view the law as a “fair compromise of all the interests involved.”
“Naturally, Canadians are grieved by an infant’s death, especially at the hands of the infant’s mother, but Canadians also grieve for the mother.”
But there are at least two complicating factors which push back against the view that this act is like a fourth trimester abortion. The first claims that abortion is really about a woman’s body and whether or not the state or anyone else can compel her to use that body to gestate a child. This case obviously goes beyond that question. The second invokes the psychological state of the mother after birth. Postpartum depression is a real thing and should mitigate punishment in cases where it contributed to the act. And, indeed, this was one of the major factors the judge invoked.
But in doing so she overturned the decision of two juries who had already heard arguments about the mother’s state of mind. And some will argue that any infanticide is the result of mental illness virtually by definition:
Any mothers in true cases of infanticide would not be of a stable enough mental state to carefully consider the legal consequences — thereby being deterred — during the act: it’s simply not possible under the conditions of the crime. Yes, the possibility exists that some might try to use mental illness as a false defense, but that should not be used to criticise its use in an honest defense.
But I wonder if the moral status of the child can be avoided as a major factor here. Are we really as quick to leap to a mental illness defense if a parent, who is similarly stressed and overwhelmed, kills her 2 year-old? How about her 16 year-old? I’m just not so sure our culture actually thinks that the newborn child is on the same moral level as other children. We have had serious arguments about how much of the child’s body should be left inside the mother when doing partial birth abortion, for instance. And while we will permit medical infanticide for newborns we do not permit it for older children. Peter Singer has argued that the acceptance of abortion rights was the beginning of a ‘Copernican Revolution’ in ethics where an indefensible sanctity of life ethic, in which human life is considered the center of the ethical universe, started to slowly wane in influence. Acceptance of infanticide will eventually come, he says, as the influence of the Judeo-Christian tradition wanes even further.
Is this legal case evidence he is right? Or is this really about protecting mentally ill mothers from a mob mentality? Or is there something else going on here?