Ohio pro-lifers’ move to prohibit abortions due to a Down syndrome diagnosis should be open-and-shut. Technically, it’s not even about abortion, per se; it’s about targeting a class of innocent people for destruction based specifically on their disability. However, on Tuesday, Yahoo Parenting (of all places) ran an article by Hallie Levine, the mother of a little girl with Down syndrome. Despite being “beyond grateful” she didn’t abort her daughter, Levine asserts she would have if she had known during pregnancy, and thinks the push to protect children like her Johanna is “absolutely appalling.”
She describes reacting to the news of her newborn’s diagnosis by thinking, “I never signed up for this.” Months of postpartum depression and years of financial, medical, and educational struggles resulted from her daughter’s condition. In the article, Levine ultimately affirms that “Jo Jo is the center of my world” and is “doing great,” but that while raising her is “a path I’m glad I’m on, I would never want to see a woman forced into it.”
It’s all powerful, rings true, and should be a reminder not to take lightly the challenges that come with choosing life (even if some pro-aborts will falsely accuse us of doing exactly that, no matter what we say). But Levine simply is not persuasive that her personal experiences should translate to the legal power to decide that a child with Down syndrome would be better off dead.
She argues that taking away the choice to abort “would have been a disaster” because her relationship with Jo Jo “was something that had to develop on its own”… but also says she’s “so grateful I did not have to make that choice,” and doesn’t explore the contradiction—perhaps a realization that if she had made the choice, their relationship wouldn’t have had a chance to develop at all, and that not knowing saved her from throwing away the “center of [her] world.”
Legislation like Ohio’s, which strips a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy because of Down syndrome, is the ultimate form of condescension to mothers. It sends the message that we’re hyper-emotional during pregnancy, that we can’t think clearly, and that the decision to have an abortion stems from misguided ignorance and fears and selfishness – rather than a genuine concern for the well-being of our unborn child.
This argument – that restricting abortion is condescending because it implies women are capable of less-than-perfect decision-making – is a persistent fallacy that seems to be deeply engrained in our culture. To break through it, the first thing to understand is that justice is predicated on the concept that on some matters – especially questions of killing – there are objectively right and wrong decisions irrespective of any individual’s perception of a situation.
The second is that is that we have laws precisely because human judgment—even among the most well-intentioned—is fallible, and that fallibility compels us to turn questions of individual rights over to impartial arbitration. This applies to all of us—men and women, young and old, religious and secular, rich and poor. It shouldn’t be taken as a personal slight. It doesn’t mean the average person is selfish, stupid, or crazy… it just means we’re human.
I will tell you what won’t help her, though: Legislation forcing women to go through with unwanted pregnancies in the misguided belief that it will advance her life, or the quality of life of other people with Down syndrome.
As of right now, the only message the Ohio legislation sends to my daughter is that if she gets pregnant, she doesn’t have the right to make decisions based on what she thinks is in her baby’s best interest.
Down syndrome can manifest in many variables that can complicate numerous questions of what’s in a child’s self-interest—education, treatment, childcare, etc.—which should properly be left to parents’ discretion. But the only decision Levine is talking about here is to kill one. It shouldn’t take being a parent to objectively see that only one answer can possibly be conducive to a Down baby’s quality of life, because whatever hardships she may face, the other answer will snuff out any chance of overcoming them.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the vast majority of people with Down syndrome survive into their twenties, and while several of the associated complications carry high likelihoods, the CDC also affirms that “many” find “productive and fulfilling lives well into adulthood,” including “hav[ing] jobs and liv[ing] independently.” So it’s not as if the Ohio bill is subjecting people to a situation where misery is the norm and fulfillment a remote outlier.
The only guarantee that someone won’t have a happy life is if they’re deprived of having a life at all.