Since the North Dakota legislature passed two of the most restrictive abortion laws in the nation – a ban on abortions after six weeks (based on the baby’s heartbeat) and a ban on abortions for fetal abnormalities – there has been much controversy.
Of course, those who believe that every life has innate value from the moment of its first beginning also believe that North Dakota is leading the rest of the nation in the right direction. Others who believe that life has value only when it is wanted or when it is “perfect” are quite displeased with these new laws. (These laws were signed by North Dakota’s governor this morning.)
TIME Magazine published an article yesterday entitled “Pro-Choice or No Choice? North Dakota Wants to Ban Abortion for Fetal Abnormalities.” In the article, author Bonnie Rochman assumes that banning abortions for fetal abnormalities leaves women with no choice in the matter. She seems to be forgetting the much-publicized case of the surrogate mother who refused an abortion when it was discovered that the little girl she was carrying would be born with multiple health issues and deformities. This mother did indeed have a choice.
Contrary to Rochman’s assumptions, this mother recognized her own inability and unpreparedness to raise a daughter with health problems, and she placed her with an adoptive family who was ready and willing to take the baby. It’s deceptive and shortsighted for Rochman – or anyone – to fail to recognize adoption as a valid option in many situations of fetal abnormalities. There are countless families who specifically adopt children with deformities and special needs. While Rochman did quote someone who advocated for adoption, Rochman continued to assert that women would actually have “no choice” with North Dakota’s law.
There are many directions we could take after reading TIME‘s article. One good point that was covered included the suggestion that doctors ought to be required to inform parents of “the latest, evidence-based information on not only the limitations of the condition but the ‘good lives that are possible for people with Down syndrome'” or other conditions. All too many parents are never given accurate information on all the things their children will still be able to do. Falsely convinced that their children will suffer horrible lives, these parents choose abortion. Had they truly been given the full facts and modern, up-to-date medical information, would they have still chosen abortion?
Perhaps the best and the worst paragraph in Rochman’s article is this:
‘We should not be discriminating against unborn disabled children,’ says Daniel McConchie, vice president of government affairs for Americans United for Life, an anti-abortion group that has helped draft legislation tightening restrictions on abortion in many states. The group argues that abortions because of fetal abnormalities amounts to eugenics, or an attempt to impose cultural perceptions of normality on reproductive decisions.
But neither should there be discrimination against mothers, says Elizabeth Nash of the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute. ‘You are talking about making an incredibly difficult situation immeasurably more difficult,’ says Nash, who tracks state regulations on reproductive health.
McConchie hits the nail on the head. Simply put, there’s way too much discrimination against children deemed “imperfect” by our society. And since it’s more “convenient” to kill them before they ever see the light of day, parents are often encouraged to do away with a child before he or she ever makes it into the world. Thankfully, some parents recognize the false information they are fed as well as the fact that prenatal diagnoses are often incorrect or not fully true.
But here’s the worst part…banning abortions for fetal abnormalities has exactly zero to do with “discrimination against mothers.” There’s no discrimination in saying, “Your child has a deformity. You are no longer allowed to kill your child on the basis of her deformity.” (Hint – the discrimination is present in the killing on the basis of a characteristic that a child cannot help.) Since when is it discrimination to ban discrimination?
No one’s arguing that it’s not difficult to give birth to a child with a disability or a deformity – especially if that child is predicted to die shortly after birth. No one’s arguing that it’s impossible to measure how heartbreaking many of these situations are for parents. What we’re arguing about is whether or not it should be legal to have the choice to kill a human being simply because he is disabled, deformed, abnormal, or about to die anyway.
Should we have the right to kill a five-year-old with Down syndrome? Should parents have the right to kill a ten-year-old with spina bifida because they no longer have the money to care for him? Should the Nazis have had the right to kill any person who didn’t meet their standard of “normal” or “perfect”? Do we have the right to take a gun and shoot someone who is predicted to die of cancer in three months?
Of course, civilized people will answer an absolute “no” to all the questions above. North Dakota’s new law isn’t about “pro-choice or “no choice.” It’s about civility and basic humanity. No one deserves to be targeted for death based on a diagnosis of “not perfect.”
As Alison Davis, a woman with “severe spina bifida” and a disability rights advocate, says:
In the specific case of women with disabilities, and the rights of handicapped people as a whole, it is becoming ever more obvious that the ‘right’ to abortion is denying us our very right to exist.