Washington Post Columnist: It’s Okay to Kill Unborn Children with Down Syndrome

(Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
Ruth Marcus’s morally troubled column shows how easily abortion-rights arguments can be used to rationalize eugenics.

‘Abortion is the right that dare not speak its name.”

So wrote Ramesh Ponnuru in his 2006 book The Party of Death: The Democrats, the Media, the Courts, and the Disregard for Human Life. His assessment was accurate then and remains largely true today, even as the Left increasingly embraces unlimited abortion-on-demand.

But this past weekend, Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus spoke the word “abortion” without hesitation, defending it not as a vague right to “bodily autonomy” but as the explicit right to kill one’s unborn child solely because he or she has been diagnosed with Down syndrome. Marcus’s column illustrates precisely why pro-choice activists often dare not speak the name of this right they so cherish.

Instead, they shroud it in euphemism: “women’s rights,” “the right to choose,” or “reproductive freedom.” As Ponnuru says, this tendency reveals a deep-seated discomfort with abortion, or at least a recognition that most people are unsettled by what takes place during the procedure. The Left wishes to keep that reality out of sight and out of mind.

At the 2016 Democratic National Convention, these euphemisms were commonplace. Not one major speaker — including presidential nominee Hillary Clinton — uttered the word “abortion,” while the party quietly enshrined its most radically pro-abortion platform in history.

But at least Marcus refuses to dodge the issue. It’s right there in the title of her column: “I would’ve aborted a fetus with Down syndrome. Women need that right.” She puts it just as bluntly in the piece, writing, “I can say without hesitation that, tragic as it would have felt and ghastly as a second-trimester abortion would have been, I would have terminated [my] pregnancies had the testing come back positive.”

And later: “That was not the child I wanted.” When discussed truthfully, the right to abortion is revealed to be rather heinous — the right to define for oneself which human lives have value, and to annihilate those that don’t.

In opposition to state laws that forbid the abortion of fetuses diagnosed with Down syndrome, Marcus claims to defend a woman’s right to make “these excruciating choices” without interference. Yet this is not merely a demand for personal choice; it is a demand for the freedom to snuff out the lives of those deemed to be abnormal and who are, as a result, unwanted.

“To be a parent is to . . . love your child for who she is,” Marcus concedes. But that love apparently goes only so far:

Accepting that essential truth is different from compelling a woman to give birth to a child whose intellectual capacity will be impaired, whose life choices will be limited, whose health may be compromised. Most children with Down syndrome have mild to moderate cognitive impairment, meaning an IQ between 55 and 70 (mild) or between 35 and 55 (moderate). This means limited capacity for independent living and financial security; Down syndrome is life-altering for the entire family.

Of course it is. But so is having any child. And to claim that the lives of children with Down syndrome are less worthwhile in part because they will have lower IQs borders on eugenic. Would Marcus apply this logic to members of other minority groups that face unique challenges? If technology somehow enabled us to accurately predict a child’s entire future, what precise level of suffering — or level of IQ, for that matter — would make it compassionate to kill her in the womb?

We can’t ignore the particular suffering of individuals with Down syndrome, who surely miss out on some opportunities and must work harder to achieve things that come easily to others. Caring for them places a special burden on their parents, families, and communities. Nevertheless, these individuals are, for the most part, able to lead happy, often independent lives, as shown by a touching statement Nebraska senator Ben Sasse wrote earlier this week. A 2011 survey found that nearly 99 percent of people with Down syndrome said they were happy with their lives, 99 percent loved their families, 97 percent liked their brothers and sisters, and 86 percent felt they could make friends easily.

But even if these numbers weren’t so promising, it wouldn’t justify murder disguised as compassion. Real health care seeks to care for and cure the afflicted, not “treat” their diseases by systematically killing them. And yet that’s exactly what happens in Nordic countries, in much of Europe, and, increasingly, here in the U.S., where two-thirds of women who receive a Down-syndrome diagnosis for their unborn children choose abortion.

Last summer, CBS News praised Iceland for leading the world in “eradicating Down syndrome births.” Just two children with Down syndrome are born in Iceland each year, the result of aggressive prenatal testing and sky-high abortion rates. CBS News’s tweet promoting the story read: “Iceland is on pace to virtually eliminate Down syndrome through abortion.”

But Iceland isn’t eliminating Down syndrome at all; it’s eliminating people. And Marcus joins CBS in portraying this horrific practice not only as a necessary evil but as a form of moral progress. The primary failure of this column is Marcus’s refusal to confront the reality that her argument is shot through with a nasty eugenic impulse, with the desire to pick and choose among lives based on utilitarian calculation.

“There are creepy, eugenic aspects of the new technology that call for vigorous public debate,” Marcus admits, but her column reveals exactly where she comes down on the question: on the side of the unmitigated “right to choose,” even if that choice stems from a motivation to dispose of lives deemed unfit.

For all the talk of choice and compassion, aborting children with Down syndrome is driven by the sinister idea that “abnormal” people are better off dead. That no life at all is better than a life affected by this particular kind of suffering. But every life is full of suffering, and aren’t we all still lucky to be alive?

For all of their unique burdens, every unborn child with Down syndrome remains a human being with irreplaceable value and intrinsic dignity — and if allowed to live, they so often grow up to flourish, especially when they have a family and community that loves them. They deserve that chance as much as any other child.


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