World Down Syndrome Day and 20-Week Laws

by Thomas M. Messner

Today is World Down Syndrome Day.

One way to mark the day is to reflect on 21 Thoughts by Dr. Jérôme Lejeune who “discovered that an extra copy of chromosome 21 was responsible for the condition known as Down syndrome.”

This column by George Will is also worth a re-read today, especially with Opening Day approaching.

This is also a good day to reflect on one of the objections to laws being passed throughout the country that would limit abortion at 20 weeks, when an unborn child can feel pain. Opponents sometimes argue that restricting late-term abortion eliminates an option for dealing with disabled babies.

Last summer the USA Today editorial board wrote, “While some genetic conditions, such as Down syndrome, can be detected with amniocentesis at 16 to 22 weeks, even then it can take two weeks to get results. Add specialists, research and time to reflect, and a 20-week ban forces women and couples to make heartrending decisions against a ticking clock.”

This issue has been addressed head on by attorneys at the Bioethics Defense Fund in a brief filed on behalf of the Jérôme Lejeune Foundation USA and two other groups. They write, “Because the most informative diagnostic procedures take place between 18 and 20 weeks gestation, it appears that the vast majority of abortions to terminate unborn children diagnosed with disabilities occur after 20 weeks gestation.”

“[S]ome abortions of children with disabilities involve diagnoses that are likely to be fatal,” the attorneys write, but “many involve non-fatal conditions such as Down syndrome, cystic fibrosis, and spina bifida.”

One way to respond to arguments about “genetic conditions” is by citing findings that most abortions after 20 weeks are for socio-economic reasons.

Another response is to show folks the following video (h/t Andrea Mrozek). Then ask them to consider how far the argument should go that late-term abortion is needed as a solution for babies who aren’t perfect (as if anyone is).

— Thomas M. Messner is a legal-policy fellow at the Charlotte Lozier Institute in Washington, D.C.


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