Down Syndrome and Abortion.

In the above BloggingHeads video, Amanda Marcotte and Mollie Ziegler Hemingway discuss the scandal of Dr. Kermit Gosnell in Philadelphia, the doctor who is charged with running an unclean clinic in which one woman died and seven babies were delivered live and then killed, rather than aborted, as Gosnell purported to do. For abortion foes like Ziegler Hemingway, all abortions are murder no matter what, so the technical fact that Gosnell delivered the babies before murdering them doesn't hold water. But the distinction is important, as Marcotte explains: Not only does what he did fall outside of the law because it was infanticide, but abortions after 24 weeks are illegal in Pennsylvania as well. Even many ardent pro-choice advocates start to make distinctions when fetuses hit viability unless the mother's health is at risk, (though as Pema Levy and Scott Lemieux have both explained, that's not as clear cut a distinction as we would like to have in a fair world).

But the bigger problem here, as Marcotte points out, is that anti-abortion advocates love to hang on the high number of women pregnant with fetuses with Down Syndrome who choose to have abortion instead of carry their pregnancy to term -- 90 percent of those who get a diagnosis. For one, many people underestimate how difficult it is to have a special-needs child: The decision to raise one not only affects the parents but likely the siblings and grandparents as well. The challenge of raising a child with Down Syndrome is not to be taken lightly, and if some parents feel they can't do it, then it's not in our interest to force them to try. Moreover, that's a bit of a canard: The health problems that force many women to have late-term abortions are actually much more drastic and usually mean the fetus won't be viable once it leaves the womb anyway -- as in cases of anencephaly -- or will have a short, likely painful life -- as in the case of Tay-Sachs. And Marcotte pointed out how intellectually dishonest it is for anti-abortionists to try to drum up sympathy by concentrating on Down Syndrome cases when they're actually against all abortions no matter what. 

As Ziegler Hemingway points out, though, there probably is a differing philosophy on what being a parent means. For many, being a parent is a self-determined choice that has everything to do with what adults want out of life. For very religious people, though, becoming a parent is something akin to acting as a vessel through which God welcomes another life into the world. It's a responsibility that one doesn't have much of a choice in, which is why I have a hard time going home and explaining to many of my religious female friends why I'm not so hard-pressed to have children anytime soon. God has higher plans for me, they say. If that plan included raising a special-needs child, I wouldn't have much of a choice in this view. But that I have higher plans for myself barely registers as important to them. That's why I think much of the abortion debate is useless: There's a vast chasm between those who don't see their religious philosophy as being at odds with our secular laws and those who do.

-- Monica Potts

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