Since prenatal screening tests were introduced in Iceland in the early 2000s, almost every baby diagnosed with Down syndrome has been aborted, making Iceland nearly Down syndrome “free.”
Some are celebrating this practice as “eradicating” the disability. But let’s be clear, Iceland isn’t eradicating Down syndrome. This is no great medical breakthrough. Down syndrome will still exist. They are just killing all the children in the womb who have it.
Last week, an editorial page editor at the Washington Post wrote a piece brazenly headlined “I would’ve aborted a fetus with Down syndrome. Women need that right.” It was littered with contradictions. One of the biggest was when the author said she didn’t believe that aborting a child in the womb is “taking a human life”, but then claimed a second-trimester abortion would have been “ghastly” and that she “would have grieved the loss.” Despite that, she said she would have aborted her two children anyway if they had tested positive for the disorder.
In an age where we go out of our way not to offend whole groups of people, apparently people living with Down syndrome are fair game. The message many abortion supporters send to them is: We judged that your life wasn’t worth living, and the world would be better off if you weren’t here.
Even for people who are on the fence about abortion but think it’s a compassionate choice for Down syndrome diagnoses, there is little else that people living with Down syndrome can take away except that they are mistakes, unwanted by many in society.
Children with Down syndrome should be celebrated, loved, and embraced by society. This mother's response to her son is beautiful: "I am so glad he is mine...I only want him, and to us, he is perfect." https://t.co/tyqLRMdbdR— Lila Rose (@LilaGraceRose) March 13, 2018
A disability shouldn’t disqualify you from the human race. Those who say so are ableists, a close sibling of sexists and racists. The only difference is that instead of color or sex, one's abilities are seen as the determinant for whether we will accept that they have human dignity and rights.
But our society doesn't really want to believe in ableism. We know that doing so welcomes back some very old ignorant prejudices, some of the worst of which have created the greatest destruction in our world. Aborting children because of a disability is rooted in eugenics. Nazi eugenicists believed that people with disabilities were weak and needed to be weeded out from society. That view has no place in a world that stands for basic human rights.
The belief that aborting Down syndrome babies is somehow compassionate is based on fear of the unknown and outright lies. The truth is that the violent killing of a child by abortion isn’t compassionate. No amount of political, euphemistic rhetoric can do away with that inconvenient fact. A child has a heartbeat just three and a half weeks after fertilization. And at the earliest point when the test for Down syndrome can be performed, that child has arms and legs, fingers and toes, and a head and a heart. An abortion involves crushing and tearing apart the live child or piercing her brain or heart with a large needle and injecting her with enough digoxin to cause cardiac arrest.
The brutal reality of abortion should be enough to stop anyone from aborting any child, let alone aborting a child because of her disability, sex, race, or any other factor.
Additionally, if we justify killing people because of some alleged sense of mercy, where does it end? Will we then say that babies who may be born blind, who are missing an arm, or who will be prone to be overweight should be aborted because we think they will have hard lives? We all face our own challenges, be they physical, emotional, mental, or otherwise. Would we advocate that we or others should have never been born so we could have avoided those challenges?
The truth is, many people born with Down syndrome can live full, healthy lives. And the vast majority of their parents and siblings say they have a more positive outlook on life because of their family member with Down syndrome.
In 2011, the American Journal of Medical Genetics published a survey of more than 3,000 family members and people with Down syndrome and found that 97 percent of parents were proud of their Down’s children (as opposed to being embarrassed by them) and an overwhelming 79 percent said their outlook on life was more positive because of them. Despite the hardships of dealing with a disability, life becomes richer and more meaningful because of the little ones who have been welcomed.
As we approach World Down Syndrome Day next Wednesday, my hope is that more people see those with Down syndrome — as well as those with other genetic, physical, intellectual, or behavioral differences — as people who have rights and dignity simply by the virtue of their existence, not because of their features or abilities, or lack thereof.
Celebrating the things that make us unique individuals — even the difficult things — and helping one another work with them is the true loving, compassionate response. And as so many families can attest, we become better people for it.