Why do so many in our culture want to eliminate unborn children with disabilities such as Down syndrome? On March 9th, the deputy editorial page editor of the Washington Post, Ruth Marcus, wrote an article entitled, “I would’ve aborted a fetus with Down syndrome. Women need that right.” When parents of children with Down syndrome strongly criticized her argument, she doubled down on her position by writing a subsequent article entitled, “The silenced majority of women who would abort a fetus with Down syndrome.” Marcus insisted that she is part of the majority of women who believe that abortion is better than bringing a child with Down syndrome into the world. From her first article:
I respect — I admire — families that knowingly welcome a baby with Down syndrome into their lives. Certainly, to be a parent is to take the risks that accompany parenting; you love your child for who she is, not what you want her to be. But accepting that essential truth is different from compelling a woman to give birth to a child whose intellectual capacity will be impaired, whose life choices will be limited, whose health may be compromised. Most children with Down syndrome have mild to moderate cognitive impairment, meaning an IQ between 55 and 70 (mild) or between 35 and 55 (moderate). This means limited capacity for independent living and financial security; Down syndrome is life-altering for the entire family.
Marcus, and her supporters in the article’s comments, are quick to argue that individuals facing Down syndrome are at a cognitive “disadvantage” with their peers. Why burden a family, and by extension, the child by unnecessarily bringing them into the world?
On one level, Marcus’ argument that most people abort children with Down syndrome is correct. Approximately 67% of all children with Down syndrome are aborted and 92% of those diagnosed with the condition lose their lives to abortion. There are many in this world willing to stop a child’s beating heart simply because her or she was diagnosed with Down syndrome. However, what Marcus neglects to mention is that many of these decisions are based on limited information regarding Down syndrome’s effects on children or their parents.
Advocates for those diagnosed with Down syndrome argue that many of these abortions stem from misconceptions about Down syndrome. A Down syndrome diagnosis is not a death sentence nor a guarantee that children will not live full and happy lives. Contrary to popular opinion, the research shows that children and adults with Down syndrome are extremely likely to be satisfied with their lives.
In a study published in the American Journal of Medical Genetics, researchers surveyed 284 people with Down syndrome ages 12 and older and asked them questions about their happiness and life-satisfaction. They found:
The same researchers published another study where they interviewed over 2,000 parents of Down syndrome children. They found:
According to the American Psychological Association, 28% of women will regret their abortion within two years. This means that a woman is seven times more likely to regret her abortion decision than she is to regret giving birth to a child with Down syndrome.
Unfortunately, many pro-choice activists work to suppress these facts. Nowhere in Marcus’ article does she mention these studies or link to them. Why not? If in fact this is a “painful” choice each woman should make on her own, shouldn’t she make it with all the facts? Why are pro-choice writers like Marcus so determined to eliminate these children when we know they and their parents are very likely to live happy and productive lives?
I think it is because they are uncomfortable with how satisfied these “disabled” individuals and their parents are with their “constrained” lives. After all, individuals with Down syndrome have lower IQs, fewer job prospects, and require more supervision than their peers, yet they love life in a way that few of us ever experience. Every time I meet someone with Down syndrome, I leave the encounter marveling at their outlook on life. Every happy adult with Down syndrome is living proof that Marcus’ hypothetical abortion is fundamentally selfish and shortsighted. That no matter how much she or anyone else tries to varnish their decision with appeals to “freedom of conscience,” “bodily autonomy,” or “choice,” it is nothing more than eugenics by another name. It is saying that one individual has the right to stop the beating heart of another simply because their condition makes us uncomfortable.
I am reminded of reading Christ’s words to the Pharisees and social elite of His day. These powerful men refused to assign much value to children. Even Christ’s own disciples attempted to refuse them access to the Savior. Yet, Jesus ordered that children be allowed in His presence and told the shocked crowd that the Kingdom of Heaven was made up of those who had childlike faith. The elite scoffed at this. To become childlike in their perspective on life was a bridge too far.
Today, I fear many have the same reaction. Our society prides itself on its “progress,” yet we act much like the Pharisees. We tell ourselves that more money, more possessions, and higher IQs will make us happy, yet anti-depressants fly off pharmacy shelves. Maybe it is we who have something wrong with our outlook on life and not the individuals with Down syndrome that our society works so hard to eradicate. Maybe instead of killing these children so they don’t grow up happy in spite of their “disability,” we should examine our own values and see why our satisfaction is so hard to attain.
If we don’t, if we continue down the path of Ruth Marcus and those like her, then we may just succeed in eradicating all children with Down syndrome in the womb and deny ourselves lasting satisfaction in the process. True and lasting satisfaction is not found in eliminating someone who gets in the way of our goals, dreams, or desires, but in making those around us and their betterment our goal, dream, and desire. In short, lasting happiness is found in loving our neighbor as ourselves.
That is something aborting a child with Down syndrome will never provide.