In a recent editorial, USA Today’s editorial board expressed “Our view” that discriminates against Down syndrome and perpetuates the societal stigma against those with the genetic condition.
The USA Today editorial was on the Texas bill being debated (again) this week that bans abortion after 20 weeks. The headline explained the editorial board’s reason for opposing the bill:
USA Today’s editors’ stated justification for opposing the Texas bill was that “heart-wrenching personal medical decisions ought to be made with accurate information–which often isn’t available before 20 weeks.” The “heart-wrenching personal medical decisions” are selective abortions on the basis of prenatally detected conditions.
That justification is one I agree with. Indeed, it’s the point of this blog: in prenatal testing, accurate information is not just needed, but ethically required, so that decisions to abort or continue a pregnancy are based on accurate information, and not ignorance, bigotry, or external pressure. Unfortunately, the USA Today editorial contributes to that external societal pressure through its discrimination against Down syndrome.
USA Today cites the detection of Down syndrome as its first specific example of information often not available before 20 weeks. Now, everything USA Today’s editors say is accurate: often the results of amniocentesis, the most commonly performed diagnostic test for Down syndrome, are not returned until right before 20 weeks, which “forces women and couples to make heartrending decisions against a ticking clock.” But, that same justification applies to any number of conditions.
If USA Today’s justification is that the Texas bill is wrong because women may terminate for conditions that may not be detected before 20 weeks, then why stop at Down syndrome? Women choose to abort for a variety of genetic conditions–cleft palate, club foot, dwarfism–and these often are not detected until after 20 weeks. Indeed, the most selected against genetic condition based on sheer numbers of abortions is one that is also not detected until at or after 20 weeks: female. Millions of baby girls have been aborted after a second trimester ultrasound. Why aren’t these conditions also cited as the type of accurate information on which heart-wrenching personal medical decisions are made?
Because, the editors know that people of goodwill would vocally oppose such a discriminatory position–in fact, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has issued an ethics committee opinion opposed to selective abortion on the basis of sex because it perpetuates sex discrimination.
USA Today seeks to differentiate Down syndrome from these other conditions by lumping it into a category the editors believe should be eligible for late-term abortion. Except, Down syndrome doesn’t fit the editors’ description of that category; the Texas bill includes an exemption for those that do; and, USA Today’s own reporting does not support Down syndrome being included in conditions justified for late-term abortion.
The rest of the editorial seeks to support its position by mentioning “many grave, even lethal fetal anomalies.” The editors cite an example of an abortion at 23 weeks after the mother discovered one of the twins she was carrying was not developing his organs properly. This leads to the editorial’s conclusion asking whether politicians should “have the power to force a woman to carry a fetus that will be stillborn or die shortly after birth? Or order a woman to give birth to a baby she knows will suffer greatly?” Never mind that in the very preceding paragraph the editors note that the Texas bill has an exemption from the 20-week ban for “severe fetal abnormalities” that are “incompatible with life outside the womb,” USA Today’s own reporting shows how Down syndrome does not fit this category.
Contrary to the terms of “grave, even lethal fetal anomalies,” that can cause a baby to “suffer greatly,” Down syndrome, in and of itself, is not one of these anomalies. In a companion piece to its own featured article from just a few months ago, USA Today’s headline recognized:
The article recounted stories of individuals with Down syndrome climbing Mount Everest, being proficient skiers, and receiving a doctorate. It shared the research by a team led by Dr. Brian Skotko where “99% of people with Down syndrome say they’re happy with their lives, and 96% say they like how they look.” Those are not the statistics of a condition that causes the child to “suffer greatly.”
And, yet, USA Today’s editors did not just lump Down syndrome into those “grave” conditions–Down syndrome is featured as it is the only genetic condition mentioned in the editorial.
The USA Today editors are purveyors of what they say they oppose. They say they oppose the Texas bill because medical decisions need to be based on accurate information. But they discriminate against Down syndrome by citing it as the example of a “grave” condition that causes great suffering, despite publishing reports that say just the contrary. The USA Today editors are wrong about Down syndrome and they need to make amends so that they do not contribute to a society that pressures women into making a “heart-wrenching decision” based on inaccurate information.