Quick Response #14: Abortion is More Humane for Children with Disabilities

Emily Albrecht responds to the pro-choice concern concern that abortion is more humane for children with disabilities. Is it really better to abort a fetus with a disability than to allow it to be born?

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Script Text

People often talk about something as being a “fate worse than death.” It seems that a sub-group of pro-choice people has applied this idea to being born with a disability. Utilitarian pro-choice activists, brought into the mainstream by people like Peter Singer, believe that it is better to abort a fetus with a disability than to allow it to be born. 

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The pro-choice view that it is more humane to abort children with disabilities is, fortunately, a minority position, but it is a vocal minority. The prime spokespeople are utilitarians, but there are also sympathizers who view abortion as a compassionate option to prevent the child from suffering as a person with a disability.

In order to understand the extent to which this view can take hold, we have to look at Iceland. The country has quote-unquote “CURED” Down Syndrome—by implementing a wide-scale system of prenatal genetic screening and abortion. The result is that only two to three kids with Down Syndrome are born each year. Two to three kids total. In the ENTIRE COUNTRY. The rest are deliberately killed. The United States, by comparison, aborts around 30 percent of those diagnosed with Down Syndrome in the womb.

Before I even get into personhood, we need to talk about the terrible discrimination going on in this viewpoint. Large groups of people are declared to have lives not worth living, or lives which inherently involve more suffering than they’re worth. While it’s true that there are instances of abuse or neglect of individuals with disabilities, that doesn’t mean it’s reasonable to believe that life is so bad for those people that they would all rather be dead. THERE IS NO COMPELLING JUSTIFICATION FOR THESE ASSERTIONS.

Normally, a pro-life person would start talking here about how happy people with Down Syndrome so often are and how much joy they bring to others, or the major contributions to society made by various individuals with physical or intellectual disabilities. But I don’t want to make the case from that because people aren’t valuable based on their happiness or contributions to society. Utilitarians believe that’s what grounds worth, and that alone is a good reason to reject utilitarianism. Instead, people with disabilities are valuable PRECISELY BECAUSE THEY ARE PEOPLE.

In fairness to someone like Singer or Richard Dawkins, they would deny that an UNBORN human with disabilities is a person. They may also deny that many BORN people with disabilities are people, especially at the beginning of their lives, so, again, don’t set your moral compass by listening to the utilitarians. But it shows that our response in conversations will involve the Equal Rights Argument, showing that unborn humans are people. If you or the person you’re talking to doesn’t agree that unborn humans are people, check out our video on the Equal Rights Argument. Link in the description.

In conversation, I’d begin responding to the argument that it’s more humane to abort children with disabilities by trotting out a toddler. Do you think it would be acceptable to kill a toddler with a disability to prevent him from harm and suffering, or because his life is less valuable due to his disability? If not, then it’s not acceptable to do it to a fetus, provided that the fetus is a person. To establish that the fetus is a person, I’d use the Equal Rights Argument.

Finally, if someone rejects those arguments, I’d press them on their violent discrimination against others. They are deciding that, either to spare society from having to recognize the personhood of disabled humans or to spare the diabled person from the pain associated with living, they should violently, in some cases painfully, end that person’s life without their consent. They are targeting people with disabilities, people society is supposed to protect, support, and include. Not only that, but they’re acting in an ageist manner, discriminating specifically against younger persons with disabilities. Saying this serves two purposes. Hopefully it can dislodge the person you’re speaking with if they’re just arguing for the sake of being difficult or make their position more uncomfortable, but more likely you’re saying this to signal to others listening that it’s NOT acceptable to discriminate against people with disabilities, no matter what you believe about abortion.

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