Causing a potential increase in neonaticide

Posted on | July 23, 2022 | No Comments

There is a taboo that needs to be included in the conversation concerning the consequences of restricting women’s access to abortion: the increased risk of neonaticide.

It happened: the US Supreme Court removed their citizens’ legal right to abortion from federal law. The decision of whether the individual is legally permitted or denied access to abortion is now to be made on state level. Some states have already made abortion and aiding someone to abortion illegal, and several other states are expected to follow. Prior to the decision, qualified voices were warning against that it would inevitably lead to the death of countless women. Removing legal access to abortion does not remove women’s dire need to end unwanted pregnancies. We know, only too well, from societies where women do not have legal access to safe abortions that women will choose illegal and unsafe methods to end their unwanted pregnancies. These methods lead to psychological trauma, physical damages causing heavy bleeding and sterility, infections, and death. The British, internationally renowned medical journal, The Lancet, left no doubt in their Editorial in May this year when it stated that the US Supreme Court will have blood on their hands with their decision

But it is not only the women’s blood the Supreme Court will have on their hands. The paradox in assuming to protect the unborn fetus’ life by denying women legal access to safe abortions, forcing them to bear children they do not believe they can care for, is the life-threatening danger this creates for not only the women but also for her neonate. The fact is that women in such a predicament are vulnerable to choosing to hide their pregnancies from their surroundings, not seeking help or assistance from healthcare and medical services during their pregnancy and birth, and killing their newborn (known as neonaticide).

This is a well-known fact among child homicide researchers, documented cross-culturally over several decades of systematic research. This fact needs to be included in our conversations about the consequences of denying women legal access to safe abortions. 

Since the mid 20th century, the rate of child homicide has declined in westernized countries. Historically, neonaticide has been the largest subcategory of child homicide, but this has changed drastically in most westernized countries over recent decades. The Nordic countries (Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland) are remarkable in this regard, as neonaticide is currently almost non-existent in these societies. The USA is also remarkable, as neonaticide still is a significant category of child homicide in this society. In the aftermath of the US Supreme Court decision, my qualified expectation is that we may see an increase in neonaticides in the states that have made abortion illegal 

As societies differ in their social and political structures, this creates a sort of natural experiment that caters to our ability to identify what structures may influence neonaticide rates. We now know that sex education and accessible birth control and abortions are crucial to women’s ability to prevent unwanted pregnancies and births and to plan their family compositions as they wish (if, when and with whom to bear children). Social acceptance for out-of-wedlock births, so that single mothers need not fear ostracization from their families and communities. Finical support to single parents, so as to compensate for the lack of contributions from a partner. Professional child care help to single parents (in Norway they have priority in ques for kindergartens that are publicly funded), so that they may continue their education and employment so as to provide for themselves and their loved ones. On all these social and political structures, the Nordic countries excel. The USA could not stand in a starker, darker contrast. 

And there are no signs that the US will learn from the global research on child homicide – a scientific field research their own citizens have contributed extensively towards – and make the above changes to buffer the life-threatening situation now created by their Supreme Court’s decision. Rather the contrary. For instance, sex education and access to birth control is now under threat precisely in those states where abortion is being made illegal. 

In Norway we recently removed a section of our criminal law dealing specifically with neonaticides. The law had not been used by the courts for decades – such child homicides appear to be absent in current-day Norway. It was a law inspired by the British Infanticide Act of 1922, which directed a merciful approach to women who committed neonaticide, as they were not to be blamed for the circumstances and state of mind that brought on their infanticidal act. Several other countries have had similar laws, directing in a merciful manner. Again the US differs from other westernized countries, in that they have never had such a law. I wonder which will come first to the land of the free and home of the brave: a 200-year belated Infanticide act or finally securing their citizens’ human right to decide what their bodies are to be used for.

This text was first published in VG, 1st of July, 2022.


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  • Hvorfor

    Jeg er kriminolog og opptatt av hvordan samspillet mellom arv og miljø skaper mennesket. Jeg har derfor en biososial tilnærming til faglige interesser. Dette er en populærvitenskapelig blogg hvor jeg kommenterer nyheter og vitenskapelige funn og litteratur. Vibeke Ottesen
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