ABORTION AND DISABILITY. We are facing two scary pushes from the extreme right in terms of reproductive freedom. First, as reflected in the Supreme Court's Carhart decision two weeks ago, there's a new willingness to stop short of protecting women's health and allow certain abortion procedures only in the extreme situation of a woman's life being at risk. This standard would allow states to outlaw abortions in cases (like this Irish example) in which the fetus is not viable outside the womb, forcing women to carry deeply traumatic pregnancies to term. The second push, as Sarah reported on so thoroughly here, are "informed consent" laws like the one in South Dakota, which force women to hear ideologically-compromised statements on fetal pain, the sanctity of the mother-child bond, or adoption before allowing them to exercise their right to choose.
In light of these trends, the New York Times story today on the efforts of parents with Down syndrome children to dissuade others from ending Down syndrome pregnancies raises questions about how disability issues will factor into the shifting political and ethical debate on abortion. Because of new, safer testing methods, all women can now opt to screen for the disease with a simple sonogram and two blood tests in the first trimester. Ninety percent of women who receive a diagnosis of Down syndrome for their fetuses choose to abort. At some hospitals, parents of children with Down syndrome have organized programs to speak to obstetricians and genetic counselors about the joys of raising Down syndrome children, and have asked the hospital to put them in touch with expectant parents who have received a diagnosis of the disease.
As anyone who's had their life enriched by a loved one with a disability can attest, these conversations are incredibly fraught. But without judging any family's choice to either end or continue such a pregnancy, the issues remain the same -- the right to choose an abortion and the freedom from coercive pressure. Expectant parents should be given information, resources, and support as they make these complex choices. But expect the antis to boil this issue down into a talking point and portray pro-choicers as mad scientists trying to genetically manipulate the human race.