Friday, September 5, 2008

Abortion Rights Versus the Rights of Special Needs Children (and all Other Inconvenient Individuals)

Governor Sarah Palin, now John McCain’s vice presidential nominee, is the mother of a Down syndrome child, Trig. In keeping with her strong anti abortion beliefs, she carried that child to term and did not get an abortion even though she knew she was carrying a child with Down syndrome. In her recent speech at the Republican National Convention she spoke about her child and pledged herself to be an advocate for families of special needs children. One should not underestimate the value of such sentiments in terms its crossover appeal. There are liberal parents out there with special needs children to whom Palin may hold an appeal.

The issues of abortion and the rights of people with special needs are connected in ways that are problematic for those who support abortion rights. (A group that I count myself as part of even if only as a very moderate member.) In the case of Down syndrome it is now common practice to screen for it. As such future parents of Down syndrome children usually know beforehand and are left with a stark choice, to abort the fetus or take on a lifetime of special responsibilities. How many unborn children with Down syndrome are being aborted? I do not judge parents who make such a choice. That being said this sets a troubling precedent; it means that as a society we are willing to condone the removal of those who are inconvenient. To make matters more difficult, the more people decide to abort such inconveniences, the greater the burden will become for those who, like Palin, do not make such a choice. The fewer Down syndrome children out there the harder it will be to advocate for them. Also the stigma attached to them and their families will increase. This creates a cycle; as the challenges of being a Down syndrome parent increases more parents will opt out and abort which will in turn increase the challenges for the remaining parents and cause them to also opt out until there will be few to none willing to take on the burdens of being a parent of a Down syndrome child.

As technology advances we are likely going to find genetic markers for other inconveniences. This will create similar scenarios. What will happen if a genetic marker for autism is found and fetuses could be tested for it before they are born? What about Asperger syndrome? On a purely emotional level, my reaction to the notion that unborn children would be aborted because they have Asperger syndrome is that I would want those responsible, both the doctor and the mother, to be frog marched directly to jail to do hard time. There is no way I could allow myself to stand back and allow commit personality trait suicide. If there is going to be a future for people with Asperger syndrome then those with Asperger syndrome are going to need to be protected not just from birth but also from conception.

What would happen if they found a way to screen for homosexuality? Could the gay community stand back and allow themselves to be destroyed? Clearly they would have to fight back and this would put them up against feminists. So much for NOWs pretense that women’s rights and gay rights are one and the same thing.

Contrary to traditional pro choice rhetoric, there is more to abortion than a woman having control over her own body. There are many different things at stake amongst them is how, as a society, we are going to deal with people deemed inconvenient. In the end abortion has the potential to split apart the left and change liberalism as we know it.

The Democratic party has good reason to fear Sarah Palin.


Anonymous said...

Since my early teens I have developed several serious chronic conditions. The amounts of time effort I must expend to keep myself at a minimum level of functioning--between the doctor's appointments, therapy, basic self care and accommodating my health problems--are tremendous. And my level of disability is nowhere near as severe as downs. I know deeply what it is like to care for someone disabled and I am loath to ask anyone else to do it.

Keeping my frail and prone to disfunctioning body is (barely) working order, leaves me emotionally raw. It exacerbates my depression. It leaves me unable to tend to the other people in my life like they deserve. It forces me to neglect my school and work. I don't know tht I could ask someone to do it. It is problematic but when I see the strain my illness exerts on my parents and boyfriend, I am pained to think of inflicting any of this on someone else.

James Pate said...

Excellent points, Izgad. Too bad a lot of Aspies are so knee-jerk liberal that they won't take that stuff into consideration.

Izgad said...


As a libertarian I do not believe in an inalienable right to health care, but I do believe that all people have an inalienable right to life and that the government and society must protect all people no matter their race, religion or state of health. As a libertarian I believe that you should have the right to commit suicide, but it is still your right to live. As long as you decide that you want to remain alive then society and your loved ones have a responsibility to help you stay alive. You should not feel guilty about being alive or feel that you are a burden to anyone. While I do not view unborn children as living beings with rights, I do see them as coming very close to it. People who decide to have a baby, or to have sex for that matter, obligate themselves to take on the consequences of their actions. Those consequences might be a child with Down syndrome. It might be someone with Asperger syndrome, like me, or it might be someone with your condition.
I am someone who has experience with depression. If you ever need someone to talk to I am here.

Tobie said...

This tangentially relates to the fascinating legal question of lawsuits for "wrongful birth". Such suits have already been filed, successfully, against genetic counsellers (sp?) who have given faulty advice leading to the plaintiff's birth. (Note: the baby, not the parents, is the plaintiff). In other words, there are courts that are willing to accept somebody's claim that it would, objectively, have been better for me if I had never been born. Such actions are extremely rare and limited to cases where the plaintiff suffers overwhelming and constant agony, etc, and as yet, I don't think there have been any successful ones against parents for choosing to conceive/not abort, but the whole thing opens up a crazy new door to society deciding what kind of life is how valuable.

Your arguments, interestingly, relate not only to abortion, but equally to pre-conception counseling. Would you be equally offended if parents simply screened for Asperger's etc? (Of course, that's basically GATTACA territory).

Izgad said...


I would see parents who screened for Asperger Syndrome as being in the same boat as white parents, looking to adopt,who put down that they do not want a black child. Bigots.

Isaac said...

Uhmn. Point of order:

Amniocentesis has been available for quite some time. Formation of the fetal skeleton and other things can allow one to predetermine whether the child will have Downs, Mosaic Downs, or any of several other deformities.
Genetic testing just makes such occurrences easier to identify earlier with LESS risk to the fetus.
In fact, abortion and abandonment of Downs children was much MORE common in earlier decades and centuries than it is now (how many elderly downs do you know of? how many are in their teens/twenties?)

Contrary to your alarmism, there very clearly seems to be a trend in the opposite direction - where parents use this information to PREPARE themselves BETTER to the challenges associated with their expected child.

Stephanie said...

I would just like to add to this discussion about being a burden with some annoying quotes. "People are best supported by people who are well-supported" and "Support makes human frailty bearable".

Any of us could aquire a disability at any time and if you are not born with one you will certainly die with one. It is wrong to assume anyone would want to "not be born" and most of the adults with down syndrome I know work their butt off advocating for themselves, marching at the capital, testifying for legislature, and fighting to open doors that close for them. I am a parent of a child with autism and the child of a parent with autism, the cousin of 4 with autism, and married into a family that has autism in their history and I am so glad that I risked the genetic lottery and had my daughter. I would like to work to find better ways to support families so they can support the challenges that do come with raising a child with a disability such as down syndrome. The argument about life being harder for people with disabilities and that it is neglectful to bring "those" children into the world (other blogs and even pro-lifers say this) is ridiculous. Why don't we work to remove the obstacles for people with disabilities instead of holding so strongly to our failing infrastructure and outdated ideas of what makes people valuable.
In Oregon where I live, if you are a parent of a child with a disability you have the right to give that child up to foster care at any time because of the "burden". They will pay a foster provider thousands of dollars to care for this child and that child is also guaranteed healthcare and any type of equipment, advocacy, or basic needs care. If a parent decides to keep their child then they have to go into debt, fight insurance denials, have equipment denied, endure the judgment of being a bad parent for taking them into public, and have the schools walk all over you and warehouse your kid in a life skills classroom when they are capable of learning academics.
If a parent could be given just a fraction of what the state will give a foster provider then they could keep their kids home and work with the challenges and grow up a proud person with a disability. Disability is a minority and to repeat what was said earlier in this post, are we going to start aborting gayness, blackness, Aspergers, green eyes? It is a slippery slope and this issue touches both sides. I have read progressives spitting bile about how Sarah Palin chose to have her defective baby and have also read the same from pro-lifers before the Gov. made her choice.

Izgad said...

Thank you Stephanie for your inspiring comments. You seem to be someone actively involved in the issue.
I do agree with you that Palin was treated far more harshly than she deserved.