Pre-natal testing: weeding out society's undesirables?


Former Washington Post writer Patricia E. Bauer summed up the rarely-discussed pre-natal testing issue well with the headline of her recent column: ‘The Abortion Debate no one wants to have.’

Bauer is the mother of teenage Margaret--a child born with Down syndrome, and a constant reminder of what she sees as the slanted cultural view of children born with disabilities.

“Whenever I am out with Margaret,” she wrote, “I’m conscious that she represents a group whose ranks are shrinking because of the wide availability of prenatal testing and abortion. I don’t know how many pregnancies are terminated because of prenatal diagnoses of Down syndrome, but some studies estimate 80 to 90 percent.”

She cited an overwhelming medical view, which suggests that parents have an obligation to undergo prenatal testing to determine whether their child might have a physical or mental disability, and therefore need to be terminated. She quoted an unnamed Ivy League ethics director who said that it was immoral to bring a disabled child into the world knowing “the kind of suffering he or she would have to endure.”

Bauer, who lives with her family in California, lamented that “As Margaret bounces through life, especially out here in the land of the perfect body, I see the way people look at her: curious, surprised, sometimes wary, occasionally disapproving or alarmed.”

“I know that most women of childbearing age that we may encounter”, she said, “have judged her and her cohort, and have found their lives to be not worth living.”

“To them, Margaret falls into the category of avoidable human suffering. At best, a tragic mistake. At worst, a living embodiment of the pro-life movement. Less than human. A drain on society. That someone I love is regarded this way is unspeakably painful to me.”

Wake up call

Bauer states that the pre-natal testing question is “a small but nonetheless significant part of what's driving the abortion discussion in this country.”

“I have to think”, she said, “that there are many pro-choicers who, while paying obeisance to the rights of people with disabilities, want at the same time to preserve their right to ensure that no one with disabilities will be born into their own families.”

The abortion debate is not just about a woman's right to choose whether to have a baby; it's also about a woman's right to choose which baby she wants to have.” Commentator Daniel Pulliam agrees. He suggested in a recent blog on, that the frequent abortion of Down syndrome, and otherwise disabled children is a story which the mainstream media needs to wake up to.

He expressed some hope however, that Bauer’s Washington Post piece would encourage members of the media  “to explore the damage legal abortions have done to our society.”

Bauer recalled that “In ancient Greece, babies with disabilities were left out in the elements to die. We in America rely on prenatal genetic testing to make our selections in private, but the effect on society is the same.”

The fact is, she says, there are numerous educational and medical reforms which are allowing people with disabilities to live much longer and healthier lives than they could 20 years ago.

However, “Margaret's old pediatrician”, she wrote with a bit of irony, “tells me that years ago he used to have a steady stream of patients with Down syndrome. Not anymore. Where did they go, I wonder. On the west side of L.A., they aren't being born anymore, he says.”

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