All abortions are tragic, but perhaps none are worse than those preborn children targeted for death purely because they have a disability.
Babies with Down syndrome are at high risk of being aborted — women who get a prenatal diagnosis are much more likely to abort their children than they are to keep them, simply because those children have an extra chromosome. One little chromosome can mean the difference between life and death. This is a travesty, so state lawmakers have begun to take action. North Dakota banned abortions because of Down syndrome. Ohio, Indiana, and Missouri are all considering similar bills.
Rachel Adams is not happy about this. Adams is a professor at Columbia University, and she is the author of the book Finding Henry: A Memoir of Motherhood, Disability, and Discovery. She wrote the book after getting a surprise diagnosis of Down syndrome when her son, Henry, was born. The description of her book states:
Adams untangles the contradictions of living in a society that is more enlightened and supportive of people with disabilities than ever before, yet is racing to perfect pre‑natal tests to prevent children like Henry from being born.
It’s interesting that she would say something like that, talking about how society is racing to prevent children like Henry from being born. Bills like the one passed in North Dakota are aiming to prevent that very thing — yet she penned an op-ed for the Washington Post opposing those bills, and saying that her son is not a “mascot” for abortion restrictions:
Let me suggest another way. These laws trivialize the often-wrenching decision to terminate a pregnancy by suggesting that women are acting out of simple prejudice. But women decide to abort after a diagnosis of Down syndrome for many reasons. Doubtless some are motivated by misunderstanding or fear. Like Joyce, they may have received biased or inadequate information from their health-care providers or harbored their own preconceptions about what it means to live with the condition. But many others believe they lack the resources required for such a child to flourish. They may know that people with Down syndrome are living longer, healthier and more independently than ever, but they may also know they don’t have the time, money or social support necessary to raise a disabled child.
By representing these laws as a strike against discrimination, proponents also trivialize the efforts of self-advocates and their supporters to promote the well-being and inclusion of people with Down syndrome.
There is no world in which the abortions of babies with Down syndrome do anything positive whatsoever for the well-being and inclusion for people with Down syndrome. Quite frankly, that may be one of the most nonsensical statements ever written. Aborting babies with Down syndrome is the largest strike against inclusion of people with Down syndrome there possibly can be, because they’re being deprived of their right to live. They aren’t being included in the most basic and fundamental right in existence: the right to life.
The same legislatures that claim to protect the unborn have also slashed services to people living with disabilities. Ohio, which is debating the Right to Life Down Syndrome Non-Discrimination Act, defunded services for people with mental illness and developmental disabilities in its latest budget . And Missouri’s annual budget contained across-the-board cuts to services for seniors and people with disabilities. The very states that seek to bring more people with Down syndrome into the world are also reducing support for their health, development and overall quality of life.
… [W]e won’t end discrimination by limiting access to abortion, which will have the unwanted consequence of driving some women to risk their health by seeking illegal alternatives and other women to bear children they are not prepared to raise. Better to put resources into services and supports that improve the lives of people with Down syndrome and their families.
Adams is correct that resources for people with disabilities is vital. But if those services are lacking, it doesn’t mean that the answer is to be a cheerleader for abortion. It means that we should work harder to improve services and resources available for people with Down syndrome, and for all disabilities. One thing does not contradict the other. Saying that services are lacking in one area doesn’t mean we should throw our hands up in the air and say ‘screw it all, kill the babies!’
It’s sad that a mother of a child with Down syndrome, who has lamented a society trying to prevent children with Down syndrome from being born, could still advocate for those children to be killed… and just because they have an extra chromosome. The most important thing we can do as parents of children with disabilities is to fight for them. That includes fighting for their right to life. If we fail at that, then what else really matters? If we don’t protect preborn babies with Down syndrome from being killed in the womb, then all the resources in the world won’t matter.
The first line in the battle for inclusion for people with Down syndrome is clearly drawn, and that’s fighting for their right to live.