Opponents of 20-Week Ban Complain Down Syndrome Babies Can't Be Aborted

The recent bans on abortions of fetuses older than 20 weeks has prompted some critics to complain that the bans would prevent aborting those with Down syndrome.

Since tests used to detect Down syndrome are typically conducted near or after the fetus is 20 weeks old, most parents who discover their child has Down syndrome would not be able to abort him or her. Some recent studies suggest that somewhere between 81 and 92 percent of those who receive a positive test for Down syndrome choose to abort their children.

The editorial board of USA Today argued against the 20-week abortion ban for this reason, in part, in a July 2 editorial.

"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," the editors wrote.

Later in the article, they complain that not providing women the opportunity to abort such children would mean giving "birth to a baby she knows will suffer greatly."

A recent incident highlights the availability of adoption for unwanted Down syndrome babies. A church in Gainesville, Va., posted a message to its Facebook page about a couple looking for a family to adopt their unborn baby with Down syndrome. If no family were found, the were going to abort the child. The church received hundreds of responses and quickly found an adoptive family.

After the biological mom was given the opportunity to choose between adoption and abortion, a pro-choice writer complained, saying she was "coerced into carrying to term."

"So many mistreated babies and kids with Downs live terrible lives. Instead of throwing resources at a nonviable fetus, why can't the church help children with Down syndrome that are already alive? Because anti-abortion folks care more about fetuses with fairytale narratives than actual babies," wrote Katie J.M. Baker for Jezebel.

In that sentence, Baker linked to an U.S. Department of Health & Human Services webpage reporting statistics on the abuse and neglect of children with disabilities.

David Leonhardt, Washington bureau chief for The New York Times, warned Saturday that the use of screenings to abort Down syndrome babies was a "specter of eugenics."

Eugenics is the belief that the reproduction of those with desirable traits should be promoted and those with defects, or undesirable traits, should be discouraged. While the belief is most commonly associated with Nazi Germany, eugenics has been influential in the United States as well. Recently, for example, it was discovered that 150 female inmates in California were sterilized as part of a system influenced by eugenics.

Down syndrome advocates, such as the National Down Syndrome Society and National Down Syndrome Congress, do not believe that those who live with the chromosomal abnormality "suffer greatly" or "live terrible lives."

In a February 2012 interview with The Christian Post, Dr. Gene Rudd, senior vice president of Christian Medical & Dental Associations and an obstetrician-gynecologist, said those who live with Down syndrome live good lives, and their parents say raising them is rewarding.

"If you do a survey of families who have raised a Down syndrome individual, the overwhelming majority, over 90 percent plus, will say, 'yes, it's been challenging, but it's been rewarding,'" he explained. "If you do a survey of Down syndrome individuals, who have the capacity to respond, 100 percent of them will tell you life is worth living. So, we have this problem, in which, we have a deception, thinking we need to prevent our society from getting exposed to this type of disability when people who have lived it say, it's a pretty good life."

The National Down Syndrome Society has a webpage correcting some of the common myths about Down syndrome.

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