Open the New York Times or peruse any of the nation’s most prominent news publications and you’ll almost certainly cross a headline reporting on the ever-debated topic of abortion in the United States. As we narrow in on the 2012 presidential elections, those on the frontline have become even more impassioned—there’s an incredible push from the left to protect a women’s right to choose, and an equally fiery force from the right with a “right to life” belief, a stance often muddled with the anti-abortion views of the Church.
Being the Massachusetts liberal that I am, I’m the first one to defend a woman’s (and family’s) options around family planning. What if, however, a woman chooses to keep her baby, only to make it approximately 20 weeks into the 40-week gestation period and be read the abnormal results of an amniocentesis (and other genetic tests)…and then decide to abort the fetus? The marvels of modern science have made is possible for man to intervene in arenas he was formerly unable to penetrate: surrogacy, conceiving without a father, pre-implantation gender selection, reduction….and now, advanced and accurate genetic testing. But, is it ethical to terminate a pregnancy on the grounds of developmental challenges? Is it okay to say I want a child, but only a neurotypical one?
On page 47 of The Starting Gate, Troy Duster, author of Back Door to Eugenics, says: “It is no coincidence…that genetically “at risk” populations overlap with social categories of race, ethnicity, and sex. Further, Duster suggests that, when such social-genetic categories influence public health policy, eugenic tendencies develop. Referring specifically to prenatal screening, Duster writes: “This kind of screen heavily implies that if one finds what one is looking for, then termination of the pregnancy is high on the list of potential intervention strategies…””
In 2007 The New York Times published an article called “Genetic Testing + Abortion = ???.” The article addressed the ethics of aborting a genetically abnormal fetus. Where many abortion rights supporters find it morally reprehensible to use abortion to obtain a “particular baby,” 70% of Americans in a National Opinion poll voted in favor of a legal abortion where a genetic defect is known. Some hold that it is exclusively a family matter, one that the government should stay out of.
“The Problem With an Almost-Perfect Genetic World” takes a decidedly different stance. Also a New York Times article, this one published in 2005, talks to the chief of self-advocacy for the National Down Syndrome Society. Ms. Peterson has Down syndrome, and starkly opposes inutero genetic testing for the judgment that it creates. There is an expectation of a “perfect” healthy child, and it’s an image that a baby with developmental delays would not fill for most families. Since about 90% of those carrying genetically abnormal fetuses choose to abort, the communities for all sorts of mental and physical disabilities are shrinking. Andrew Imparato, the president of the American Association of People With Disabilities says, “We’re trying to make a place for ourselves in society at a time when science is trying to remove at least some of us.” Fewer children with disabilities being born certainly lessens the imperative for funding research, and schools may not feel a responsibility to provide strong academic supports and take a stance of inclusion. Is it, perhaps, a woman’s moral obligation to birth these children to maintain community and promote awareness? Is this making a martyr out of a fetus?
Personally, the only reason I see to accept genetic screening is to prepare early-intervention tactics to increase cognitive skills as an infant in the event of genetic abnormalities, perhaps even limited to the over-40 set, as risk is higher with age. I see a big difference between aborting a fetus after a rape or as a teen, and aborting a baby on the grounds that it’s not “normal,” the latter an act I find disgraceful.