As technology advances, concern for the ethics of protecting vulnerable lives, equality, and human rights increases as well. Among such vulnerable lives are preborn babies, especially those diagnosed with disability. Fetal testing is now being developed to detect genetic abnormalities linked to autism. Such advancements in science should come as welcome news, equipping physicians to better understand conditions, treat patients and help prepare families, but parents and pro-life advocates worry such diagnoses in-utero lead to increased abortions.
Despite fallible misdiagnoses, babies’ astounding ability to correct abnormalities in the womb, and countless medical miracles and remarkable lives defying the odds, the bigoted assumption remains that lives with disabilities are less valuable or desirable.
Consistent with previous studies, the largest, most reliable study analyzed multiple generations and over 2 million children from five countries, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Australia and Israel, and results estimated approximately 81 percent of autism risk stems from inherited genetic factors. A new blood test to detect autism in preborn babies relies on DNA extracted from fetal cells in the mother's blood, and can accurately detect if a fetus carries large mutations linked to autism. Although the test is not yet available to doctors, it is only a matter of time.
LabCorp has already received a patent for a method of diagnosing autism which uses tissue and looks for sequences in the person’s genetic code which may indicate risk for developing autism spectrum disorders, including autistic disorder, Asperger’s disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, Rett’s disorder, and nonspecific pervasive developmental disorders. The test can be used prenatally via the more invasive amniocentesis method. Most tests for genetic disorders sample fetal DNA by inserting a needle into the womb, which increases risk of miscarriage.
Doctors already test for major genetic abnormalities if ultrasounds reveal atypical development. They also test pregnant women who have a family history of genetic conditions, as well as those older than 35. More recent blood tests can analyze fetal DNA from the mother’s bloodstream and accurately detect major chromosomal abnormalities, such as Down syndrome.
Since fetal cells are extremely scarce in the mother’s blood, a new non-invasive test to detect autism risk, developed by Libra Genetics, uses magnetic beads coated with a sticky tag that binds to the cells. They use magnets to pull the cells out of blood samples and then sequence the DNA, focusing on copy number variants, large deletions or duplications of DNA. Many of these CNVs are linked to autism and related conditions, including dup15q syndrome.
Libra Genetics seeks to commercialize the new test, which has yielded results matching those of more invasive tests 100 percent of the time. Blood tests of floating fetal DNA cost approximately $750. Another competitor, Cradle Genomics, announced it has raised $17 million to develop a similar less invasive prenatal test based on fetal cells scraped from a woman’s cervix.
Such testing can “provide better genetic testing to families” and reduce risk to the mother's health caused by more invasive methods. Tests resulting in fetal abnormalities, however, often result in pressure to abort babies, despite fallible diagnoses, thus perpetuating discrimination against lives with disabilities.
As “the social impairments between autistics and the neurotypical world go both ways,” with neurotypicals also requiring “effort to understand the autistic,” early detection should help advance such understanding. “It is hard to understand the callousness of thinking that the child was a mistake of nature and it was okay to terminate its life,” as suggested by discriminatory abortions based on fetal diagnosis of disability; rather, “it is our limited understanding of these special people that is the problem.”
Thus, instead of embracing such new medical diagnostic tools, which can help understand different variants and equip families, parents with autistic children express similar fears that such diagnoses will increase abortions:
“Autistic people are already very likely to die by suicide. Why? Because they are constantly told that their life is burdensome and they do not fit in. So while a test may be neutral, real people will die. Real people will suffer. And it will all be cheered as progress.” — Lauren Pope (whose son is autistic)
“Science should be used as a tool, not a blunt instrument to bludgeon and shame parents into killing what popular culture deems ‘imperfect’. Life is not perfect, or fair, or easy. And yet it is the one thing that we all yearn for. We ALL want to live. Don’t let anything – not this genetic test, not twisted moral preening, not bigotry – convince you otherwise.” — Deanna Fisher (whose two sons are autistic)
“This kind of testing (it’s certainly not a ‘diagnosis’) lays the groundwork for eugenics, and that’s horrifying – and already going on with Down syndrome.” — Steve Silberman (@stevesilberman) January 8, 2018
“Children with autism are to be welcomed with love, not targeted for death.” — Russell Moore (@drmoore) January 8, 2018
“Legalized abortion + early detection in fetus for disabilities = Annihilation of our most precious and defenseless babies.” — James Cook (@tied4second) January 9, 2018
“And what will be done with this technology as parents receive a diagnosis of autism for their unborn offspring? I pray and hope keep them, raise them, love them — like all children deserve.” — Rick Hogaboam (@rickhogaboam) January 9, 2018
Now 21 weeks pregnant, Live Action’s Lila Rose warns, “Our medical system is on a search and destroy hunt for babies with disability.” Lila recounted one of her own early ultrasound appointments, in which she was offered three tests with the sole purpose to detect disabilities. When she asked what happens if something is detected, the doctor said, “We consider our options.” However, 79 percent of women are not counseled about alternatives to abortion. Some abortions have even been scheduled without the mother’s consent, based solely on the false presumption that lives with disabilities are unwanted or not worth living.
Such bigotry implies abortion’s cruelty to babies and health risks to women are preferable to lives with differences. Nearly 75 percent of women are pressured to abort, and over half feel rushed and uncertain. Pushing women to make quick decisions based on incomplete and biased information after emotional, surprising and complex medical news is certainly not “pro choice.” Such bias and haste robs parents of the ability to research the disability and talk to other parents with children who share the condition, who offer encouragement and support, sharing the joys their children contribute. Children with disabilities are not just valuable to their own families, but to society as a whole.
Further, pushing discriminatory abortions “sends a message of fear to expecting mothers who may be faced with the decision of continuing or terminating a pregnancy.”
For example, 1 in 4 are pressured to abort after a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome. Parents report having a negative experience with medical professionals, and are given inaccurate, outdated misinformation or a general lack of information and compassion. While pressuring to abort, obstetricians have appallingly told mothers, “It could just be hanging off you, drooling,” and that her baby “would be more like a fish than a human and would only be as smart as a baboon.” Mothers describe their experiences:
“Everything was worse case scenario”
“The information provided was incorrect. The ‘statistics’ were reportedly grim.”
“I realized I didn’t know enough about the condition and that all of the preconceptions were wrong. I began to feel hopeful about my baby’s possible future.”
“Those fears continued until minutes after I delivered her. I stared at her in awe and realized she was perfect. I felt a sense of calm at that point.”
By contrast, parents who were given “hope, encouragement and peace” thank their nurses who “made a world of difference.” They were able to celebrate their baby, and not mourn her diagnosis. “She will always have value and worth, and it is because of your beautiful diagnosis delivery that we have declared that truth from day one!” Parents who received the appropriate support are able to “give others hope that there are professionals who do not belittle our babies but celebrate their lives!”
Parents deserve helpful information, resources, and support, not discouragement, lies, fear, and pressure to kill their children. Abortion advocates hypocritically oppose pro-life laws that give women more information, choices, safe healthcare and support. Since amniocentesis is done in the second trimester, most babies with diasabilities are aborted via late-term abortions, when babies feel excruciating pain. Most abortions are done within 72 hours of the diagnosis, not allowing parents time to adjust to the news, fully research the condition, and seek support.
While, sadly, most late-term abortions are elective, on healthy mothers and babies, abortion is never medically necessary, even in cases with concern for the mother’s or baby’s life. Birth or C-section is safer, and doctors would treat both patients. In fact, abortions cause 4.5 times more death, while regions with pro-life laws have lower maternal mortality rates.
Moreover, recent studies found "women who terminate pregnancy due to a fetal anomaly express considerable physical and emotional pain, with psychosocial and reproductive consequences,” including subsequent premature births, miscarriage, or even infertility, and 65 percent suffer PTSD.
Abortion is unhealthy for women and inhumane to their preborn children. Even lives with life-limiting conditions should not be dismembered or poisoned to death. Killing lives with disease, deformities or disabilities is unjust, whether in or out of the womb.
Frank Stephens, a man with Down syndrome, testified last year before a congressional committee, "We are giving the world a chance to think about the ethics of choosing which humans get a chance at life."
All lives deserve a chance at life and medical treatment. By contrast, Democrats in Congress have repeatedly blocked a vote to provide medical care to babies born alive after botched or failed abortions. Further, opposing equal protection of human rights implies additional discrimination that only parents and babies with adequate financial, regional or other means can access more advanced healthcare.
Abortion preys upon the most vulnerable. Preborn babies diagnosed with disabilities are aborted at alarming rates.
A heartbreaking 87 percent of babies with Down syndrome are aborted, and even higher rates abroad, despite 99 percent report living happy, fulfilling lives. Although fetal surgery can treat spina bifida, 64 percent of babies diagnosed with the condition are sadly aborted. Even babies with treatable minor conditions such as cleft palate are aborted.
One mother shared her disbelief at such discrimination: “What sort of society do we live in when a minor facial deformity, correctable by surgery, is viewed as so abnormal to merit abortion?”
Thus, parents of autistic children rightly warn similar discriminatory abortions will increase as a result of new diagnostic testing to detect gene mutations linked to risks of developing autism.
If it is unthinkable to kill a child diagnosed with a disability, then it is equally unjustifiable to kill that same child in the womb. In turn, if it is wrong to discriminate based on disability, then it is equally wrong to discriminate based on age. It is ironic that the United States Supreme Court protected the dignified treatment of fetal human remains but declined to rule on protecting live preborn babies from discriminatory abortions. Despite declining to ban discriminatory abortions, the Supreme Court recently ruled aborted fetal remains must be given dignified burial or cremation, rather than incineration with surgical by-product or disposal as medical waste. While pro-life advocates cheered respectful treatment of human life, some abortion advocates grotesquely mocked treating human remains with dignity. In stark contrast with the proper respect paid to human remains of soldiers, for instance, such devaluing of life also threatens vulnerable patients, including lives with disabilities, chronic conditions, or in the womb.
Additionally, increasing push for socialized healthcare raises concern for inevitably rationed patient care, which puts vulnerable lives at risk and deems some lives less valuable than others, which alarmingly promotes eugenics. In fact, patients with dementia have been euthanized without consent. Assisted-suicide requests of patients with mild autism have been granted, prompting lawsuits by families against doctors for lax application of legal standards determining “unbearable suffering”. Such vulnerable patients deserve vital help, not fatal harm.
Life and death decisions decided by bureaucrats instead of patients and loved ones has alarmingly expanded to euthanizing children even without parental consent or notification. Doctors have also been cleared of wrongdoing for euthanizing elderly patients, in one case sadly causing anxiety among Holocaust survivors living at an Orthodox Jewish nursing home. Such shocking deaths illustrate Mother Teresa’s warning, “Any country that accepts abortion teaches its people not to love but to use violence to get what they want.” It is alarming to imagine eugenic elimination of lives with disabilities is what society wants.
It is hard to reconcile whether society holds a negative view of lives with disabilities, or if the fear and discouragement imparted to parents of babies with fetal diagnoses causes the unfortunate, false presumption that abortion is the preferable option. Parents have even successfully sued doctors for “wrongful birth,” claiming they would have aborted their child with Down syndrome had it been prenatally detected, and in one case, were awarded nearly $3 million for the “burden” of raising their daughter. Rather, she is a miracle, as approximately 80 percent of babies with chromosomal abnormalities are lost in miscarriages. While families deserve appropriate support, children with disabilities are not defective, nor burdens to be compensated. They are lives full of potential.
Further, if parents can sue based on lack of information, then fathers can sue for wrongful death based on lack of notification or consent, as men suffer mental health consequences from abortion as well as women. Abortions survivors can also arguably sue for injuries and disabilities caused by botched abortions. Post-abortive women could sue as well, since 84 percent are not fully informed. Such potentially murky legal landscape could be clarified by equally protecting all lives.
Respect for all lives should begin when life begins, at conception, and follow to its natural end, as recognized in the Supreme Court’s decision to protect the dignified treatment of fetal remains. While the Court’s decision awaits more rulings from lower courts, as many states increase pro-life laws, discriminatory abortions based on race, sex, or disability disturbingly continue. Justice Thomas cautioned, "Although the Court declines to wade into these issues today, we cannot avoid them forever… this Court is duty bound to address [the] scope [of abortion]. Enshrining a constitutional right to an abortion based solely on the race, sex, or disability of an unborn child, as Planned Parenthood advocates, would constitutionalize the views of the 20th-century eugenics movement. In other contexts, the Court has been zealous in vindicating the rights of people even potentially subjected to race, sex, and disability discrimination."
Justice Thomas astutely recognized the dangerous parallels of abortion which “developed alongside the eugenics movement,” and warned abortion “to achieve eugenics goals is not merely hypothetical.” Founder Margaret Sanger spoke at KKK events, and Planned Parenthood began with eugenics intent to exterminate blacks, poor immigrants, and lives deemed “unfit,” alarmingly similar to Nazis targeting “inferior stock,” including blacks, elderly, ill or disabled. In fact, Hitler emulated the eugenics policies of leftist American “progressives.” Exposed by the horrors of the Holocaust, eugenicists then hid their intent, and Sanger’s Birth Control League rebranded itself Planned Parenthood, recognizing “eugenics goals are most likely to be attained under a name other than eugenics.”
Today, Planned Parenthood continues such deceptive rhetoric, but remains the highest killer of black lives, and disproportionately kills hispanics, girls and babies with disabilities. Planned Parenthood has been exposed for targeting minority communities and accepting donations to specifically abort black or other minority babies. In New York City, where Planned Parenthood began, more black babies are sadly aborted than born.
Further, Planned Parenthood kills over 150,000 girls annually, and millions are aborted worldwide, totaling over 160 million “missing” girls, more than the entire female population in the United States. Racial and sex-selective abortions echo the discrimination of aborting babies with disabilities, perpetuating the bigoted practice of treating some lives as if they have less worth. Thus, Justice Thomas rightly noted that laws banning discriminatory abortions “promote a compelling interest in preventing abortion from becoming a tool of modern-day eugenics.”
All lives should be afforded life-preserving medical care, not ranked by disability or other bigoted criteria. Abortion, especially in circumstances with diagnoses of fetal anomalies, does not serve either patient, the baby or the physical, emotional and psychological health of the mother.
“There is no research to support the popular assumption that terminating the pregnancy is easier on the mother. In fact, research to date suggests the opposite. One 2004 study, published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics and Gynecology, concludes that abortion due to ‘fetal malformation’ is a ‘traumatic event’ that ‘entails the risk of severe and complicated grieving.’”
Another study, published in 2015 in the journal Prenatal Diagnosis, found "women who terminated reported significantly more despair, avoidance, and depression than women who continued the pregnancy.”
Even with terminal diagnoses, most parents are comforted by cherished time with their babies. Perinatal hospice services respectfully treat terminal preborn children as the real patients they are, and provide the support to families which they deserve. While abortion leaves 79 percent without counseling about alternatives, perinatal hospice and palliative care provides ethical, compassionate care that is safe and healthy for everyone involved. While abortion not only destroys a child, but a family, perinatal hospice cares for the child and gives families the chance to make memories and gain closure. Numerous organizations help families with prenatal support after diagnoses, including Prenatal Partners for Life, Carrying To Term, and Be Not Afraid. Additonally, over two million families wait to adopt, including babies with disabilities or terminal diagnoses, but nearly one million are aborted annually in the U.S. alone, and only a few countries have a higher abortion rate. Such discrimination against vulnerable lives with disabilities is among the world’s worst human rights abuses.
Real progressive policy would cultivate a culture that protects the most vulnerable, upholds equality and the inalienable Constitutional right to life, and embraces diverse contributions of all lives. In fact, though people with Down syndrome may have a higher risk of leukemia, for instance, they also have a higher chance of surviving it, uniquely contributing to research for a cure. It is sobering to realize invaluable information has been immeasurably lost with the countless babies aborted, in addition to the heavy loss of their individual precious lives.
Equality of human rights should be the basis of medical options and transcend politically partisan differences. Ironically, abortion supporter and leftist comedian Amy Schumer, whose husband was diagnosed with autism, asked if anyone would be interested in a series documenting her pregnancy and birth of her child. One follower responded, “I’d like to see a documentary of you discovering your mate is diagnosed with autism and how you cope with the possibility that your child will be on the spectrum.” Schumer was quick to reply,
“How I cope? I don’t see being on the spectrum as a negative thing. My husband is my favorite person I’ve ever met. He’s kind, hilarious, interesting and talented, and I admire him. Am I supposed to hope my son isn’t like that? I will pay attention and try and provide him with the tools he needs to overcome whatever challenges come up like all parents.”
The negative insinuation that disability is something to be “coped” with perpetuates harmful attitudes, misunderstandings, discrimination and even abuse of individuals with disabilities. Perhaps “coping” with such attitudes is the hardest part. Being neurotypical is not better than being neurodivergent. Being autistic is merely a different way of being. Schumer noted, once her husband was diagnosed, “It dawned on me all the characteristics that make it clear he is on the spectrum are all of the reasons I fell madly in love with him.” For many parents, their child’s disability is coupled with their most beloved strengths and traits. Another mother added,
“If you don't have a child with special needs, it may be hard to understand the gut-punch that comes every time I hear of someone celebrating not having a child like mine. Are there different challenges? Absolutely. But my child and his peers are worthy of life and celebration, too.”
Babies with disabilities “are not defined by [their diagnoses]”. Their value is not “wrapped up in the challenges [they] face. Like every human being on the earth”, their lives are not “determined by just one aspect. They have equal inherent value as human beings. “All the parts that make up who [they are] are not wiped out by the words” of diagnoses. To abort them suggests such precious lives are nothing more than their disabilities, which would be “a tragedy, an act of discrimination, and an injustice.”
No diagnosis, disability, or condition can undermine the value of extraordinary lives. Andrea Bocelli's mother was pressured to abort her son diagnosed with disability that led to blindness. She courageously refused, and thankfully the world is blessed with his amazing talent and passion. His mother recalled it was his blindness, in fact, that led him to music, proving all lives have purpose. Bocelli’s own pro-life views are not merely anti-abortion, but pro-life in the fullest sense:
“I am not only fighting against something, I am fighting for something — and I am for life.”
Unique passions and talents triumph in countless lives faced with challenges. Unlike seeking a cure for cancer, for instance, seeking to eradicate disability is not getting rid of a harmful medical condition that happens to a person, but trying to remove an integral part of who a person is.
“Autism is a human variance. It is not a disease. There have been autistic humans for all time. Some of these people are the people who have lifted society through their single-minded love for science or art or literature.”
Music also helped blind and autistic musician Kodi Lee overcome communication and social challenges. Finding music brought Kodi joy as it brought his mother, Tina, hope, recalling, “Now I know how to help you as your mom. With all of the hardships he's had, he taught me anything is possible.” Having survived life-saving surgery at just five days old, Kodi has faced many obstacles, but wowed millions when he won the Golden Buzzer after his audition for America’s Got Talent. Gabrielle Union gushed,
“I'm a new judge this season, and I'm also a new mom this year, and it's the toughest job I've ever had and the most rewarding job I've ever had. You just want to give your kids the moon, the stars, and the rainbows. I'm so happy Kodi came into all of our lives. You changed the world. Who you are makes the world a better, more beautiful place. We have to stop putting limits on our children. We have to keep believing in each other.”
Judge Simon Cowell responded to Kodi, “We are nothing without people like you. You are one of the most extraordinary people and talents. God bless you,” and added to his mother, “I don't know what it's like to live in Kodi’s world. I can tell, obviously, you have an amazing relationship, the two of you. I'm going to remember this moment for the rest of my life." Judge Howie Mandel called Kodi “a great inspiration,” and in reference to Kodi’s live performance, “In this world of troubled waters, you, Kodi, are our bridge.” Fellow judge Julianne Hough was moved as well, stating, “You have changed our hearts. You have changed our mindset. You have changed our lives. Everybody needs a voice and an expression, and I really feel your heart, your passion. I heard you and I felt you, and that was beautiful.”
Both Kodi and his mother have also been touched by the messages they receive from autistic kids and their parents about what Kodi’s performance meant to them.
It is poignantly ironic such inspirational lives are celebrated for their remarkable accomplishments, but deemed undesirable or disposable in the womb. Abortion survivor Gianna Jessen was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, caused by lack of oxygen to her brain during a saline abortion which excruciatingly burned her in the womb for 18 hours. The abortion doctor was not at the clinic when she was born alive, and would have suffocated, strangulated or left her to die. Instead, a nurse called an ambulance, and Gianna was rushed to a hospital. Doctors did not expect her to live, let alone ever walk or lift her head.
Gianna has triumphed over all these challenges and declares her disability “a great gift” to her, and boldly rebukes abortion for the arrogant notion anyone can determine the quality of someone else's life, or deem it less valuable due to disability:
“You have failed, in your arrogance and greed, to see one thing: it is often from the weakest among us that we learn wisdom – something sorely lacking in our nation today. And it is both our folly and our shame that blinds us to the beauty of adversity.”
In fact, within just the first year of her life, Gianna was used as an expert witness in a case against an abortionist who strangled a baby to death after being born alive. Even terminal babies only living hours or days, have profoundly impacted others, comforting grieving parents, touching the lives of foster families, even saving others’ lives via organ donation.
Jeannie Wallace French, executive director of the National Women’s Coalition for Life, provided powerful personal testimony at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on the partial birth abortion ban in 1996. Physicians had recommended aborting her twin daughter, Mary, diagnosed with anencephaly, a congenital defect where the fetus does not have a brain. However, the Frenches were determined to save their daughter, and if they were unable to take care of her, they learned there were couples waiting to adopt her. Mary lived just a few hours after birth, giving her father a chance to hold her.
“Three days after Mary died, on the day of her interment at the cemetery, Paul and I were notified Mary’s heart valves were a match for two infants in critical condition. We have learned that even anencephalic and meningomyelocele children like our Mary can give life, sight or strength to others. Her ability to save the lives of two other children proved to others that her life had value — far beyond what any of us could ever have imagined. Mary’s life lasted a total of 37 weeks, 3 days, and 6 hours. In effect, like a small percentage of children conceived in our country every year, Mary was born dying. What can abortion possibly do for children like Mary? This procedure is intended to hasten a dying baby’s death. We do not need to help a dying child die. Not one moment of grief is circumvented by this procedure. Our daughter, living less than a day, saved the lives of two other children. Which of us, even after decades of living, can make the same claim?”
Even images of mothers holding their beloved miscarried babies at just a few weeks old, have also touched lives in powerful ways, even saving other lives from abortion. A baby in Texas has touched lives worldwide. Tiffany and James Burns lost their son, Ezekiel, to miscarriage at 11 weeks, and shared his photo to prove the valuable humanity of preborn lives.
Although “his heart stopped at 11 weeks 2 days... He had a heartbeat. Such a sweet sound. He had life! He was not a blob. He was not just a clump of cells. He was formed. Perfect. His sweet fingers. Toes. I am blessed to be his mother. He lived to show others life! He’s my sweet little missionary!”
The photo quickly went viral, showing a tiny baby in the palm of his mother’s hand, with his facial features, tiny arms and legs folded across his body, with tiny fingers and toes. Though Ezekiel did not survive the first trimester, his life has tremendous purpose. In an update, Tiffany wrote, “Keep praying! God is using our sweet Ezekiel in ways I never imagined. I’m receiving comments and personal messages from people all over the world about how his picture is changing hearts and healing.”
In fact, at just 8 weeks, babies have over 90 percent of their anatomy. Brain activity can be detected and organs function during the first trimester. Gender anatomy and fingerprints develop, and babies react to touch, and even start to show preference for their right or left hand.
Human rights are not dependent on level of development, and lives with autism or any other disability have equal value as any others at any stage of life, including preborn. Each person has unique DNA from conception. No diagnosis can diminish his or her value, and no life is without value and purpose. As advancements in science equip medical care to detect conditions sooner, it should follow that parents are provided more supportive resources, and vulnerable patients receive more protection, not less.
As a recent Pampers commercial states,
“Whether he's planned or not. Whether she's 3 months early or 10 years late. Whether he has a young mom or a surrogate. Whether she's through IVF or adoption. Whether she has special needs or a lot of needs. However it happens, every baby is a little miracle to celebrate, support and protect.”
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Human Defense Initiative.