Tag Archives: anti-choice

Abortion and Down Syndrome

29 Jan

First of all, let’s get one thing straight: I am not in the business of judging women for when and why they choose to abort. If you’re only going to take one thing away from my blog ever, please let it be that.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, I have something that I want to talk about.

I want to talk about the fact that, according to some studies, an estimated 90% of fetuses that receive a prenatal diagnosis of Down Syndrome are aborted.

It should be noted that the actual numbers may be less than that, and some studies show a decrease in recent year in the number of pregnancies terminated after a prenatal Down Syndrome diagnosis. We’ll go with that 90% figure, though, because it seems to be fairly accurate and is the one that I see pop up the most often.

It should also be noted that this figure should not be misinterpreted as “90% of fetuses with Down Syndrome are aborted.” That statement is patently untrue. For one thing, many people opt out of prenatal genetic testing, or do not have access to it. So while it’s a fact that thousands of fetuses are aborted after a diagnosis of Down Syndrome, it should also be noted that there are still thousands of babies with Down Syndrome being born in North America every year.

All of that being said, that 90% is not an insignificant number. And we have to look at what that means, both in terms of the pro-choice movement, and in terms of the stigma surrounding Down Syndrome.

With regards to the pro-choice movement, there’s been talk recently (in the US, at least) of enacting a ban on abortions due to fetal abnormalities. A bill was introduced in North Dakota last week that, if passed, would charge doctors who perform abortions for reasons of sex selection or genetic abnormalities with a Class A misdemeanour, which could potentially result in a year of prison time. Indiana is trying to pass a bill that would charge doctors who perform abortions in cases of genetic abnormalities with a Class C felony, which can result in up to 8 years of prison.

Needless to say, I think these laws are a terrible idea, for a number of reasons.

First of all, as previously noted, I don’t think that banning abortion does much good anyway, as studies have shown that it does not affect the abortion rate.

Second of all, I never, ever think that giving women less information or less choices is the way to go. I think that women should be given all the information available about their fetus. I think that women should always have the option to abort that fetus, even if their reason is the sex of the fetus or because the fetus has Down Syndrome. And I think that limiting abortions because the reason for one particular abortion makes us uncomfortable is a slippery slope.

Thirdly, I think that these laws would be difficult, maybe even impossible to implement. Would they allow for abortions in cases where the genetic abnormality is incompatible with life? While it’s true that a doctor can diagnose genetic abnormalities with 100% accuracy given the right tests (tests like amniocentesis which, by the way, many women avoid because they carry a risk of miscarriage), no doctor can ever truly predict whether a disability or genetic disorder is incompatible with life. Does this mean that doctors will force women to continue pregnancies in cases of anencephaly, because in rare cases babies born with that condition can survive outside of the womb, albeit with absolutely no quality of life?

Finally, and most importantly, I don’t think that the fact that 90% of fetuses diagnosed with Down Syndrome are being aborted is the problem. I think that it’s a symptom of the problem, and as such, I don’t think that a ban on abortions is going to fix anything.

The really problems are stigma, lack of education and lack of resources.

We need to have doctors who are better educated about Down Syndrome, so that they can provide better information to their patients. This is especially crucial given that a new blood test is being developed that can, with 100% accuracy, predict whether or not a fetus has Down Syndrome. This is a test that can be administered by family doctors, meaning that now your general practitioner, the person who, as things stand now, has had very limited training when it comes to disabilities, will now be counselling you on whether or not to terminate your pregnancy. Many doctors will give women misinformation, or blatantly one-sided information, that will lead to the decision to abort. We need doctors who are providing the full picture, so that women can make truly informed decisions.

We need more government resources for families with children with disabilities. My mother is a social worker who works with children with disabilities, and I have heard many first-hand accounts about how little the government provides, and how incredibly financially straining it can be for a family with a child with Down Syndrome. People living with Down Syndrome can have a whole host of medical problems, sometimes spending years at a time in the hospital. And while, yes, we have socialized medicine in Canada, which means that the hospital bills will be paid (assuming that the hospitalized person is in a ward, not a private room, and excluding the cost of medication), what we often don’t take into account is the time that a parent of a child with a disability will have to take off work. Some parents even find that they are unable to work and have to care for their children full-time, or else face the idea of having their child institutionalized (this scenario is, admittedly, rare for children with Down Syndrome, but happens quite often for children with more serious disabilities or delays).

Above all, we need to work to reduce stigma. We need to find ways to teach society that a diagnosis of Down Syndrome is not the end of the world; that people with Down Syndrome can and do live long, healthy lives and contribute in many ways to the world around us. Most people with Down Syndrome are able to work outside of the home; many are able to leave their parents’ homes and go to assisted-living communities or places like the L’Arche homes. We need to have people with genetic problems and developmental disabilities become more visible in our society; why not have a character with Down Syndrome on a children’s television show? Why not feature more children with developmental delays in children’s books, or in movies? Why not include children and adults with Down Syndrome in consumer advertising campaigns, modelling for clothing companies or whatever? How are we ever going to teach society that those with disabilities are people, too, if they remain almost totally invisible?

I was speaking with a friend today about receiving a prenatal diagnosis of potential Down Syndrome (she’d had ultrasounds, but had opted not to have an amniocentesis, so doctors couldn’t say 100% whether or not her son had Down Syndrome). She said a few things that really struck me:

I remember a few weeks before his anatomy ultrasound reading a story of a mom who had a baby with Down Syndrome without any prior clues on any testing.. and I was like “oh well, what’s the big deal?” And then when everything went down for us I understood what the big deal was. It wasn’t that I didn’t want HIM, it was that everything that I wanted for him may not have been possible […] I think another factor for me was that it was like suddenly this baby that I had inside me for 20 weeks was a stranger. Because I had built up one image in my head of the perfect baby and suddenly they were someone different. Not any less perfect, but just not what I was preparing myself for, so I definitely went through a grieving period, even though I didn’t think Down Syndrome was a big deal prior to that.

Reading her comments made me tear up a little, because I think that this is something that we don’t often talk about, the idea that a diagnosis of Down Syndrome can feel like a loss. We don’t talk about the fact that the baby you’ve been envisioning all along, the baby you’ve been in love with no longer exists, and needs to be grieved. I remember that after I had my c-section and was upset about the fact that I hadn’t been able to have the natural birth that I wanted, someone told me that it was okay to grieve that birth. And hearing that helped.

And I think that in the society we live in, the society that teaches us that people with Down Syndrome are inferior, that their lives are worth less and, as such, they are to be pitied, it only makes sense that some women, as part of their grieving process for the child they thought they were carrying, will choose to abort a fetus with Down Syndrome. A diagnosis of Down Syndrome can often makes a mother feel that she might never love her child, might never want to hold them or care for them. What good will it do to force that mother to continue her pregnancy? And if you tell me that she’ll learn to love her child, that every mother automatically bonds with her child, well, you’re voicing the same anti-choice rhetoric that’s used against young or unprepared women who are facing an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy.

Banning abortions in cases of genetic abnormalities isn’t going to make people believe that those living with Down Syndrome are any more valuable, or less pitiable. Banning those abortions won’t magically make more funds or resources available to struggling families. Banning those abortions won’t make doctors any more knowledgeable about Down Syndrome or other disabilities. Banning those abortions won’t make a mother feel more capable of loving a baby with Down Syndrome. Enacting such a ban will only going mean that there are more mothers and fathers who feel lost, alone and unable to cope.

Is that really what we want?

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Feminism and Abortion

27 Jan

I like to think that there aren’t a lot of hard and fast rules when it comes to feminism. I think you can be married and have kids and be feminist. I think you can be single and childless and be feminist. I think you can be a stay-at-home mom and be feminist. I think you can be a working mother and be feminist. I think you can breastfeed and be feminist. I think you can formula-feed and be feminist. I think you can wear cute dresses and pretty pink lipstick and a giant fucking bow in your hair and be feminist. I think you can wear jeans and combat boots and cut your hair real short and be feminist. I think you can be a woman and be feminist. I think you can be a dude and be feminist.

I don’t, however, think that you can be anti-choice and be feminist.

This week marks the 40th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, the landmark decision by the United States Supreme court to legalize abortion (up until then, the only legal abortions in America were those done in cases of rape or incest).

In the 40 years since Roe vs. Wade, the abortion issue has only grown more contentious. There are many people who are still vocal supporters of the pro-choice movement, but there are also many people who don’t support a woman’s right to bodily autonomy.

And you know what? I wish I could say that I understood, but I don’t.

I don’t understand why you would try to enact a ban on abortions when banning abortion does not actually affect the abortion rate.

I don’t understand why you would try to create legislature that is almost certainly going to be dangerous to the health of women, sometimes even leading to their deaths.

I don’t understand why you would spend your time preaching at women about dead babies, telling them at what gestational age they develop fingers and toes and referring to abortion as “murder”, rather than using your time to promote access to things like birth control and sex education.

And I really, really don’t understand how and why Ross Douthat thinks he can convince women that they can be anti-choice and feminist.

I think that part of the problem is that Douthat doesn’t seem to understand what the feminist movement and the abortion debate are all about. And you know what? Far be it for me to elect myself the Boss of Explaining Feminism and The Pro-Choice Movement to Ross Douthat, but I guess someone has to do it, so here goes.

Douthat begins by complaining that Nellie Gray, a former-WAC-corporal-turned-bureaucrat-turned-lawyer who helped establish the March for Life, the annual rally against Roe vs. Wade, is not a “case study for students of second-wave feminism.” This, Douthat argues, is because “cultural stereotypes” cause us to believe that the anti-choice movement has a more “complicated relationship” to women’s advancement than all those Liberal left-wingers want us to believe.

I bet you are wondering how on earth banning women from exercising their reproductive rights is anything more than a reverse of all the hard-won equality that feminism has fought for. I know that I sure am! Let’s see what Ross Douthat has to say.

First of all, Douthat wants you to understand that one of the “stereotypes” about the anti-choice movement, the idea that they are trying to reinforce traditional gender roles by forcing women to have children and stay out of the work force, just isn’t true! He notes that,

Jon Shields of Claremont McKenna College pointed out last year, pro-life sentiment has been steady over the last four decades even as opposition to women in the work force (or the military, or the White House) has largely collapsed. Most anti-abortion Americans today are also gender egalitarians: indeed, Shields notes, pro-life attitudes toward women’s professional advancement have converged so quickly with pro-choice attitudes that “the average moderately pro-life citizen is a stronger supporter of gender equality than even the typical strongly pro-choice citizen was in the early 1980s.” Among the younger generation, any “divide over women’s roles nearly disappears entirely.”

Translation: the anti-choice movement totally gives you permission to work outside of the home! And wear pants! And vote! They support all kinds of radical choices for women!

I mean, except whether or not to have kids once you’re already pregnant.

You’re totally allowed to be in control of your own body right up until that one, single, solitary sperm encounters that one single, solitary egg – after that moment, you’re up baby creek without a paddle.

Douthat then goes on to assert that,

The pro-life cause has proved unexpectedly resilient, in other words, not because millions of Americans are nostalgists for a world of stricter gender norms, but because they have convinced themselves that the opportunities the feminist revolution won for women can be sustained without unrestricted access to abortion.”

What he actually means is that SOME of the opportunities the feminist revolution won for women can be sustained without unrestricted access to abortion. You know, all the opportunities that don’t involve a woman’s right to choose whether she has kids or not.

And before you jump in to tell me that if a woman doesn’t want to have kids, she should just use birth control, let me tell you that that’s not how it works. Even with all sex education in the world, even with easy access to birth control, women are still going to have unplanned pregnancies.

Sex education is easily forgotten in the heat of the moment. Birth control fails. We all know that no form of birth control is 100% effective, except for abstinence.

Please, go ahead and raise your hand if you think that preaching abstinence is going to work.

Lindsey Graham, you can put your hand down right now.

Douthat finishes his article by saying that,

For its part, if the pro-life movement wants not only to endure but to triumph, then it needs … [to offer] … realist’s explanation of how, in policy and culture, the feminist revolution could be reformed without being repealed.

Ross Douthat, let me explain this to you using small words, so that you will understand:

If you are trying to take choices away from women, that is not feminist. If you want to enact policy that will quite certainly lead to women’s deaths, that is not feminist. If you think that you, as a man, get to have any say over what happens to women’s bodies, that is really not fucking feminist.

Got it?

Good.

And you know what? If you really, truly believe that life begins at conception, why not work to fund research and raise awareness regarding miscarriage and infertility? One in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage, and those are only the pregnancies that women know about. It’s actually estimated that 50-75% of all embryos fail to implant due to genetic problems, hormone imbalances and other factors – if you really want to save unborn babies, why not go that route? You’d be saving way more “lives” that way than by banning abortion.

And let’s not even talk about all the ways in which you don’t help the children you’ve “saved” from being aborted. You know, the children born to mothers struggling to make ends meet, the children who don’t have access to healthcare, the children who don’t get enough to eat on a daily basis. Those children.

The thing is, Ross Douthat, you and I both know that this isn’t about saving unborn children. This isn’t about the fact that you believe that abortion is murder. This is about controlling women, plain and simple. This is about you thinking that you can use the rhetoric of the feminist movement to somehow trick women into agreeing with your anti-choice stance.

So please refrain from ever using the word “feminist” in conjunction with the anti-choice movement ever again.

p.s. Also, please never use the term “mansplaining” ever again.

p.p.s. No one says “chauvinist” anymore. Just sayin’

p.p.p.s. I don’t like you.

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