Saving Downs, a New Zealand group which advocates for the lives of people with Down syndrome from conception through natural death, issued a formal complaint to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2011 regarding the New Zealand government’s prenatal screening program. In response, the prosecutor from the ICC has issued a preliminary examination into whether or not the program is discriminatory because it seeks to reduce the number of people with Down syndrome and other conditions through abortion.
According to Mike Sullivan, spokesperson for Saving Downs, the complaint was issued because the group believes that the screening program targets unborn children with Down syndrome and other rare conditions such as spina bifida. Under the Rome Statute, the ICC has the power to investigate and prosecute international crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes of aggression. Article 6 of the Statute states that genocide includes “imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.” However, it refers only to groups of religious, ethnic, racial, and national classification.
If the prosecutor determines that the basis of the complaint is reasonable, then the ICC will continue with an in-depth investigation. As told to 3 News, Sullivan says:
This is unprecedented. They’ve got a result after a thorough legal analysis of the situation. It means the prosecutors accept that there are merits and concerns with the information raised by the court.
This is a big step forward for Saving Downs and other groups fighting to end the discrimination of humans diagnosed with genetic condition and disabilities before birth – not only in New Zealand, but also around the world. The ICC, joined by 121 countries (as of July 1, 2012), is the first treaty-based, international criminal court created to help convict perpetrators of the most grave crimes known to humanity. If the New Zealand government is found guilty of genocide or crimes against humanity, the screening program may end, and groups in other countries can use the case as a precedent. Unfortunately, the United States is not one of the 121 countries.
Even if the prenatal program doesn’t end, groups like Saving Downs hope that existing prenatal screening programs throughout the world will change course and focus their technologies on educating and preparing parents rather than frightening them into abortion.