In our new moral order, unborn babies must be protected from all harms—except abortion. The Economist has two pieces in its latest issue (“Unequal Beginnings” and “Huffing and Puffing”) that make the case for public policy that reduces harm to unborn babies. “Unequal Beginnings” argues that new science has uncovered just how serious and lasting stress, pollution, or health harms to unborn babies can be to their later development. It then goes on to note that, for example, “Alaska is installing free pregnancy-test dispensers in bars in an attempt to cut the rate of fetal-alchohol syndrome.” In “Huffing and Puffing,” the authors report that in some countries, women still smoke “right through pregnancy”—including 18 percent of pregnant women in France. How to stop it?
One promising approach is paying women to quit. A recent trial in Scotland gave up to £400 ($590) in shopping vouchers for women who stayed off cigarettes until their babies were born, as well as the usual package of counselling and nicotine patches. The success rate rose from 9% to 23%. If further trials show similar results, the scheme may go nationwide. Even smaller amounts may help: the state of Maryland recently started giving pregnant women who call a smoking-cessation service up to $90 in shopping vouchers that can be used to buy items for the baby. To get the full amount they must keep calling after the baby is born. (Figures from many countries suggest that at least half those who quit during pregnancy start again soon after giving birth.)
The concern for the health and future development of unborn babies displayed here is admirable, of course. And this kind of mindset looks to be a new vanguard. When both The Economist and Cosmopolitan come out almost at the same time with pieces on how smoking harms unborn babies, you know a trend is afoot. But this mindset co-exists strangely with the left’s avowedly pro-choice politics. As Mollie Hemingway put it about Cosmo’s concerns about pregnant smoking mothers: “So they’re totally fine with offing a child in utero even in late-term abortion—but they don’t want that same child to have to deal with cigarette smoke?” Just how long can people keep walking that tightrope? If advocacy in favor of improving unborn babies’ health keeps increasing, perhaps not as long as some might hope.