The Ultimate Discrimination: Down Syndrome Abortions

By Jessie Morgan, Intern

Photo by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash

Today I offer you some alarming food-for-thought: we are living in a society in which people have the authority to determine that one human being is more worthy of life than another.

Pennsylvania Representative Kate A. Klunk introduced legislation that would amend the Abortion Control Act to prohibit the abortion of a child solely because the child has been diagnosed with Down syndrome. Last session, the bill passed the House with a bipartisan vote of 117-76. Though it passed in the Senate as well, it was ultimately rejected after being vetoed by Governor Tom Wolf. However, Klunk is not going to let down that easily—she just reintroduced a similar bill known as House Bill 1500.

For those who may not know, Down syndrome is the most common chromosomal disorder in the United States. According to the CDC, the condition affects about 1 in every 700 births. Children with Down syndrome experience a variety of social and intellectual disabilities, as well as a range of medical complications. They are generally identified by physical characteristics such as eyelids that slant upwards, decreased muscle mass, and a trademark crease through the palms of the hands.

Aside from physical identifiers, those with Down syndrome experience cognitive and social impairments that can vary in degree.

Over a hundred years ago, Down syndrome was a dismal diagnosis for new parents. In 1910, children with Down syndrome typically did not live past the age of nine. That life expectancy soon increased to 20 years with the discovery of antibiotics, and now, the majority of Down syndrome adults live to be older than 60.

Today, people with Down syndrome are diving into their communities in ways never thought possible. They work in schools, health care facilities, and all throughout the work force, and they engage in a variety of recreational activities like music and sports. They are university graduates, professional musicians, fashion designers, business owners and professional athletes. In addition to these, however, those with Down syndrome have always been friends, family members, neighbors and members of our communities.

As writer Ziad Abdelnour wrote, “Success is not found in what you have achieved, but rather in who you have become”.

In a research survey of over 3,000 family members and people with the disability, nearly 90 percent of siblings indicated that they feel like they are better people because of a sibling with Down syndrome.

If you’re like me, you might know of several people with Down syndrome in your community. You are familiar with the way they can light up a room the moment they walk in. You might remember a sense of humor, a unique personality, or a refreshingly optimistic outlook on life. Just like many others, those with Down syndrome can radiate a sense of joy that can impact anyone they cross paths with, perhaps for the rest of their lives.

If the value of life in our society was measured not by achievement, but by who we are as individuals, friends and community members, would Down syndrome protection legislation still have been rejected? Would 67 percent of American mothers, 77 percent of mothers in France, or 100 percent of mothers in Iceland have still chosen to abort their child after receiving a positive test for Down syndrome?

Currently in Pennsylvania, the only limitation to abortion per the Abortion Control Act is for sex-selective abortions. This seems self-explanatory—no person has the right to deny the pursuit of life to another person based solely on the discrimination of gender. The question left standing is: what makes Down syndrome any different?

A Lesson from “Charlotte’s Web”

A few Sundays ago, when I was visiting my family, my little sister pulled out a paperback copy of “Charlotte’s Web” and asked if I would read to her.

CharlottesWebI hadn’t read the book in years – maybe not even since I was 8, the same age as my little sister. We sat down on the sofa, and I turned the pages to Chapter 1:

“Where’s Papa going with that ax?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.
“Out to the hoghouse,” replied Mrs. Arable. “Some pigs were born last night.”
“I don’t see why he needs an ax,” continued Fern, who was only eight.
“Well,” said her mother, “one of the pigs is a runt. It’s very small and weak, and it will never amount to anything. So your father has decided to do away with it.”
… Fern pushed a chair out of the way and ran outdoors. …
“Fern,” said Mr. Arable, “I know more about raising a litter of pigs than you do. A weakling makes trouble. Now run along!”
“But it’s unfair,” cried Fern. “The pig couldn’t help being born small, could it? If I had been very small at birth, would you have killed me?”
Mr. Arable smiled. “Certainly not,” he said, looking down at his daughter with love. “But this is different. A little girl is one thing, a little runty pig is another.”
“I see no difference,” replied Fern … “This is the most terrible case of injustice I ever heard of.”
A queer look came over John Arable’s face. He seemed almost ready to cry himself.
“All right,” he said.

Fern’s words almost seem prophetic, “If I had been very small at birth, would you have killed me?” Today babies in the womb are killed just because they may have a disability or abnormality. Many parents are pressured toward abortion because their baby is imperfect in the world’s eyes. Our society justifies these babies’ deaths with excuses: The baby may suffer, or the baby could be a burden for the family, or the baby may not live long anyway. I think the problem lies with our flawed perspective, not these children’s lives.

I was really struck by Fern’s example. She fought and pleaded for a life who many didn’t see as valuable. She gave up her time to provide the extra care and attention that that life needed.

Fern approached the situation from the simple, untainted logic of a child. She didn’t think twice. She didn’t question whether a life was worth saving, because it never occurred to her to question the value of a life at all. She understood that every life deserves protection, no matter how long they live or how much care they need.

I’m so glad “Charlotte’s Web” is still a classic on children’s bookshelves. We need more heroines like Fern.

Discrimination against Women Starts in the Womb

Friday is the International Day of the Girl.

On Monday as I was thinking about the special day and browsing through the news, two stories caught my eye.

The first headline read, “Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Challenging Ariz. Abortion Law” which bans sex and race-based abortions.ProtectOurGirls

Then the second, “Australian Doctor Investigated for Refusing to Do Sex-Selective Abortion.”

And last week, I read about a debate in England after two doctors were caught agreeing to do illegal sex-based abortions. The government has said it won’t prosecuted the doctors.

I wonder whether others raising awareness about women’s rights made the connection between these stories and the reason we have an International Day of the Girl.

The United Nations estimates that up to 160 million girls are missing in our world today because of sex-selection abortion.

There are many, many injustices against women in our world, from education and career discrimination to sexual harassment and human trafficking. But sex-based abortion, which I consider among the worst of injustices, goes unnoticed far too often when we talk about women’s rights.

This Friday, help raise awareness about gender discrimination in the womb. Here are a few ideas:

Check out the trailer for “It’s a Girl,” a new documentary about this issue.

Share a graphic like this one or the one above on Facebook or Instagram. Or make your own!

Post a video of Live Action’s genocide investigation.

Learn more about the issue by visiting Women’s Rights without Frontiers.

Connect pregnant women in your community with life-affirming and empowering support. Click here to find a list of pregnancy resources in Pennsylvania.