Human Rights

Training manual: Advising abortion for babies with Down syndrome can be ‘a blessed relief’

down syndrome, abortions

In a 1996 book meant to teach abortion workers how to “counsel” women considering abortion, the authors tell the workers to recommend abortion when the baby has a disability. Pregnancy and Abortion Counseling, by authors Joanna Brien and Ida Fairbairn, discusses “non-directive” counseling (in which the abortion worker doesn’t pressure the woman to choose abortion) and “directive” counseling, in which abortion is actively encouraged. The authors claim that in cases of fetal anomaly, it is better for the parents if the abortion worker is “directive” and encourages abortion:

When counselling, the aim of the health professional involved would normally be to support a decision-making process but not to influence it. There has recently been lively debate whether a non-directive approach is possible or even ideal when fetal abnormality has been discovered. By not offering guidance are professionals merely disowning responsibility and choosing not to face the ethical dilemmas they have been instrumental in discovering?

By receiving non-directive counselling the couple are urged to make their own impossible decision at a time when they are grief-stricken and in emotional turmoil. Couples in this kind of situation are often desperate to be advised what to do, and being able to say “the doctor advised us to have a termination” can sometimes be a blessed relief….

READ: Powerful documentary shows doctors’ push to abort babies with Down syndrome

Couples who are given a prenatal diagnosis already face a great deal of pressure to abort. A recent study on parents of children with Down syndrome found that one in four couples encountered medical personnel who “insisted” on abortion. The same study found that only 11% of couples who were told about a fetal anomaly and chose to give birth were satisfied with their doctors. Reasons for dissatisfaction included too much emphasis on abortion and not providing information about other resources.

In an Australian survey of mothers whose children with Down syndrome were diagnosed in utero and who had their babies, two thirds of the women said that they were offered an abortion a second time after turning it down. One fifth said that medical professionals pressured them to have an abortion at every visit.

This is an example of ableism connected to abortion. The lives of disabled children are devalued, and babies with disabilities are treated differently than those who would be born able-bodied.

Source: Joanna Brien, Ida Fairbairn Pregnancy and Abortion Counseling (London: Routledge, 1996) 130-131

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