Bigotry against Babies with Down Syndrome
by Sarah Terzo
People Who Want to Abort Babies with Down Syndrome Give Their Reasons
Rayna Rapp, who aborted a baby with Down syndrome herself, interviewed parents who were waiting for the results of Down syndrome screenings. These parents all intended to abort their babies if they tested positive. Here are some of their comments:
- I would have a very hard time dealing with a retarded child… I would feel grief, not having what I consider a normal family.1
- I have an image of how I want to interact with my child, and that’s not the kind of interaction I want, not the kind I could maintain.2
- I’m something of a perfectionist. I want the best for my child. I’ve worked hard, I went to Cornell University, I’d want that for my child… I’m sorry I can’t be more accepting, but I’m clear I wouldn’t want to continue the pregnancy.3
- The bottom line is when my neighbor said to me: “Having a ‘tard, that’s a bummer for life.”4
- I just couldn’t do it, couldn’t be that kind of mother who accepts everything, loves her kid no matter what. What about me? Maybe it’s selfish, I don’t know. But I just didn’t want all those problems in my life.
- If he can’t grow up to have a shot at becoming the president, we don’t want him.6
- It’s devastating, it’s a waste, all the love that goes into kids like that. 7
- I think it’s kind of like triage, or like euthanasia… We’d have to move, to focus our whole family on getting a handicapped kid a better deal… Why spend $50,000 to save one child?8
Aborting babies with Down syndrome is often seen as compassionate. Ob-gyn Katherine McHugh wrote in the Washington Post:
Research suggests that women terminate between 60 and 90 percent of pregnancies diagnosed with Down syndrome. These decisions are made out of love and compassion, a seemingly obvious concept but one that bears emphasizing.
Abortionist Says Aborting Down Syndrome Babies is Like Prescribing Antibiotics
Nevertheless, many still believe hurtful and ablest stereotypes.
Abortionist Malcolm Potts described abortion as a valid way to eliminate children with Down syndrome:
Abortion is a way in which nature — Darwinian evolution — deals with abnormalities… If a woman asks me to do what nature failed to do and she wishes it, I will, with great comfort, abort a Down syndrome when it’s been diagnosed in a pregnant woman if she wants it. I see abortion as a necessary healing process.
Potts refers to the child as “a Down syndrome,” reducing him or her to a medical diagnosis and dehumanizing them. He compares aborting these children to prescribing antibiotics:
As a doctor, if someone has pneumonia and their immune system is not keeping up with it, I will prescribe an antibiotic. If they have an abnormal baby and they wish to have an abortion, I will give them a medical abortion. To me, it is the same basic ethic that all, I think, physicians have.
Teaching “Counselors” to Recommend Abortion
A textbook meant to teach medical professionals how to “counsel” women considering abortion discourages “non-directive” counseling when a child is disabled. Instead, it encouraged “counselors” to directly advise 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 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.9
There is evidence that doctors are taking this advice to heart.
Painting a Negative Picture of Life with Down Syndrome
Jo-Ann described herself as “fearful and anxious” when she learned there was a one in 93 chance her preborn child would have Down syndrome. She says:
We were given a handout that itemized all the health issues related to Down syndrome. It painted a very negative picture of this condition. I do not recall receiving any information about support groups.
The “counselor” pressured her to have an amniocentesis, with its risk of miscarriage, to diagnose her baby. She was repeatedly told, again and again, that this would give her the opportunity to abort. Jo-Ann recalls, “The last thing I remember her saying to us was, ‘You do not need to have this child.’”
Her son James was born with Down syndrome. Jo-Ann says she has a “wonderful family” that was “made more complete” by her son.
Cynthia Yunke recalls telling the doctor she wouldn’t abort her baby with Down syndrome.
According to her, the doctor “mutter[ed] something about getting back to me in a few days because, ‘I don’t think it is registering with you what I have just told you.’”10
Another doctor, after detecting a possible problem via ultrasound, “shook her head with great displeasure”11 when the child’s mother told her she hadn’t had a screening to detect anomalies. The doctor arranged an amniocentesis for the next morning at 9 AM. According to the mother, Robin Roach, “she never even gave us a choice.”
The perinatologist doing the test assured Robin that she would still have time to abort if it came out positive. Robin recalls thinking, “Why did she keep saying that? No one asked me if I even wanted to.”12
Several days later, the doctor told her her child had Down syndrome and said, “I understand from the perinatologist that you would like to terminate.” Robin objected, saying she hadn’t decided what to do.
She describes herself as being “confused, sick, and hurt” and “angry that the perinatologist had been so aggressive and intrusive in my private affairs, especially at a time when I was so vulnerable to the power of suggestion.”13
She had her son over the objections of her doctors.
Secular Pro-Life highlighted another case where a woman was told her child was at risk for Down syndrome. Before the diagnosis was even confirmed, “The doctor gave me a long list of negative health conditions involved with Down syndrome… He emphasized it shouldn’t be hard for me to get immediately pregnant after an abortion if I wanted to ‘try again for a normal baby.’”
When the amniocentesis came back positive, the doctor again mentioned abortion. Fortunately, she and her husband found another doctor who was supportive. She named her daughter Kaylen and later adopted another little girl with Down syndrome.
In a study of 3,000 parents of children with Down syndrome, the majority reported that their doctors painted a dismal picture of life with Down, mentioning only the negative aspects.
Dehumanizing Babies with Disabilities
When an amniocentesis found that Jessica Capitani’s preborn son had Down syndrome, the doctor went ahead and scheduled an abortion for her. When she didn’t keep the appointment, she says, he was “very surprised.”
Capitani says that the doctor began calling her 21-week-old son “it” and “a fetus” instead of “baby” as soon as he discovered the disability, “[a]s if I had a horrible cyst growing inside of me they couldn’t wait to eradicate. There was that subtle pressure to have the abortion.”
Another woman was told her baby “would be more like a fish than a human and would only be as smart as a baboon.”
One doctor that if she had her baby with Down syndrome, her child would “just be hanging off of you, drooling.” The doctor “contort[ed] her face into a saggy, expressionless imitation” of what she thought a disabled child would look like.
Pressured, Scorned and Harassed
Pregnant at only 16, Danielle Urie was told her child had a heart defect and would require major surgery. While she was still “in deep shock,” her doctors advised abortion.
She says, “They gave me half an hour to decide… I told them there and then there was no possibility I was going to abort. They told me Steven wouldn’t be able to have a good quality of life.”
Although problems with the baby’s heart were found not to be as serious as originally believed, doctors later told her her son had Down syndrome. She calls Steven the “most amazing, beautiful, kindhearted little boy in the whole world.”
Kristina Artuković describes the reaction of doctors when she and her husband refused to abort their baby with Down syndrome:
[M]y husband and I were repeatedly harassed and generally scorned by the medical community. They tried to set us on the right track: screen, diagnose, abort. They made clear that as obstetricians, they were deeply aware of things, and, as mere parents, we were ignorant and irresponsible for wanting our child.
1. Rayna Rapp Testing Women, Testing the Fetus: The Social Impact of Amniocentesis in America (New York: Routledge, 1999) 133
2. Ibid., 133-134
3. Ibid., 91
4. Ibid., 138
5. Ibid., 92
6. Ibid., 134
7. Ibid., 146
9. Joanna Brien, Ida Fairbairn Pregnancy and Abortion Counseling (London: Routledge, 1996) 130-131
10. Cynthia Yunke “Surprise!” in Kathryn Lynard Soper Gifts: Mothers Reflect on How Children with Down Syndrome Enrich Their Lives (Bethesda, Maryland: Woodbine House, 2007) 115
11. Robin Roach “Oh, Yeah?” Kathryn Lynard Soper Gifts…, 26-27
13. Ibid., 28
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