Pregnant couples who plan to abort Down syndrome babies defend their choice


By now, most pro-lifers have heard the cruel and elitist comments made by Richard Dawkins about aborting Down syndrome babies. Dawkins claims that the “ethical” choice is to abort all babies with Down syndrome, even though these children often lead happy lives and enrich their families and society.

An NBC article by Kimbery Hayes Taylor describes the results of 3 studies conducted by Boston Children’s Hospital. In the first study, out of 2,044 parents or guardians surveyed, 79% reported their outlook on life was “more positive” because of their child with Down syndrome.

A second study found that among siblings of children with Down syndrome, 97% expressed feelings of pride for their brother or sister and 88% were convinced that they were better people because of their sibling. This study polled siblings over the age of 12.

A third study focused on the feelings and attitudes of people with Down syndrome themselves. Among adults with Down, 99% said they were happy with their lives and 97% said they liked who they were. 96% said they liked the way they looked. You would probably not find such high numbers among the general public. According to the study, Down syndrome children grow up to be happy adults.

And yet the abortion rate for Down syndrome babies is tragically high.  Some studies put the number at 90%. Our culture puts so much value on independence and individual achievement that human beings who do not “measure up” to certain standards can be rejected and aborted.  Children become commodities that can be tested and found wanting and then destroyed. Only if they pass a criteria established by their parents are they judged acceptable and allowed to be born.

Rayna Rapp, a former abortion clinic worker who aborted a baby with Down syndrome herself, conducted a survey of women and couples who sought amniocentesis to screen for Down syndrome and other problems with their babies. All of the interviewees intended to abort if the baby was found to have Down syndrome. Some of the things that these parents say about Down syndrome children are deeply troubling to anyone who values life. Here are some comments from men and women who said they would abort if the test came back positive for Down.

  • I would have a very hard time dealing with a retarded child. Retardation is relative, it could be so negligible that the child is normal, or so severe that the child has nothing… All of the sharing things you want to do, the things you want to share with a child – that, to me, is the essence of being a father. There would be a big void that I would feel. I would feel grief, not having what I consider a normal family.(133)

  • 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. (133)

  • I’m sorry to say I couldn’t think about raising a child with Down’s. 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’d want to teach him things he couldn’t absorb. I’m sorry I can’t be more accepting, but I’m clear I wouldn’t want to continue the pregnancy.( 133 – 134)

  • The bottom line is when my neighbor said to me: “Having a “tard,” that’s a bummer for life.” (91)

  • 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. (138)

  • If he can’t grow up to have a shot at becoming the president, we don’t want him.(92)

  • It’s devastating, it’s a waste, all the love that goes into kids like that. (134)

  • I think it’s kind of like triage, or like euthanasia. There aren’t enough resources in the world. 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?(146)

All of these mothers and fathers (for they are already mothers and fathers to their babies growing in the womb) had chosen to have abortions if the baby had Down. The book did not specify which pregnancies actually tested positive and how many went on to abort. But all of the quotes above were made by men and women who fully intended to kill their babies if they turned out to be mentally challenged.

Many of these people were affluent, successful men and women. They had an idea of what they wanted their child to be like, and if it turns out their baby does not measure up to their expectations, they want to reject that child and try again. It’s a consumer culture that views babies as commodities that can be accepted or rejected based on the parents expectations.

You have to wonder how these parents would react if their “normal” child turned out to have a learning disability or just is less of an overachiever- not as perfect as they want him to be. The sanctity of human life has been defeated by a consumer culture where women have amniocentesis in order to decide whether or not a baby is acceptable to be born, as if they were purchasing a pair of shoes and looking for the most comfortable and attractive ones.

Two of the people interviewed also expressed reluctance to make the sacrifices required to care for a Down syndrome child. Not wanting “problems in my life” becomes a tragic statement when you realize that all children cause “problems” at one time or another. Putting a monetary cost on a child’s life and deciding that the child’s life isn’t worth that arbitrary amount is even worse. I wonder how much money the mother who so cavalierly said “Why spend $50,000  to save one child” thinks her own life is worth?

I wonder if the respondents knew that there is a waiting list of parents hoping to adopt children with Down syndrome.  Sadly, I doubt this knowledge would make a difference to those who rejected their children.

Source: Rayna Rapp Testing Women, Testing the Fetus: the Social Impact of Amniocentesis in America (New York: Routledge, 1999)

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