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:: Tuesday, September 16, 2008 ::

Palin's Down syndrome child and the right to abortion 

:: Posted by Nicholas Provenzo at 6:45 AM

Like many, I am troubled by the implications of Alaska governor and Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin's decision to knowingly give birth to a child disabled with Down syndrome. Given that Palin's decision is being celebrated in some quarters, it is crucial to reaffirm the morality of aborting a fetus diagnosed with Down syndrome (or by extension, any unborn fetus)—a freedom that anti-abortion advocates seek to deny.

A parent has a moral obligation to provide for his or her children until these children are equipped to provide for themselves. Because a person afflicted with Down syndrome is only capable of being marginally productive (if at all) and requires constant care and supervision, unless a parent enjoys the wealth to provide for the lifetime of assistance that their child will require, they are essentially stranding the cost of their child's life upon others.

So while anti-abortion commentators such as Michael Franc of the National Review sees Down syndrome's victims as "ambassadors of God" who "offer us the opportunity to rise to that greatest of all challenges," for many, that opportunity for challenge is little more than a lifetime of endless burden. In this light, it is completely legitimate for a woman to look at the circumstances of her life and decide that having a child with Down syndrome (or any child for that matter) is not an obligation that she can accept. After all, the choice to have a child is a profoundly selfish choice; that is, a choice that is an expression of the parent's personal desire to create new life.

And most parents seek to create healthy life; in the case of the unborn fetuses shown to have severe developmental disabilities, one study reports that over 90% of these fetuses are aborted prior to birth. But if you notice, the anti-abortion zealots try to attach a dirty little slur to these abortions, labeling them a form of eugenics. For example, in 2005, as he condemned those who opposed federal legislation that would have attempted to dissuade women carrying fetuses diagnosed with severe disabilities from having abortions, conservative pundit George Will wrote:

If it is not unobjectionable, let's identify the objectors, who probably favor the pernicious quest -- today's "respectable" eugenics -- for a disability-free society.
So in the anti-abortion advocate's eyes, a parent's desire to raise healthy children by squelching unhealthy fetuses while the are still in the womb is little more than a pernicious quest, but it is not considered a pernicious quest to knowingly bring severely disabled children into this world. On the contrary, such a choice is held out as an great example of upstanding morality. For example, consider this recent press release from a conservative anti-abortion advocacy group which celebrated Plain's birth announcement:

The Palin family is a wonderful example of a family who made the right choice to embrace their child and his future. Wendy Wright, President of Concerned Women for America (CWA), commends Governor Palin, saying, "She is even more beautiful inside than out. Her proud and warm announcement of the birth of their special child revealed the depth of love and faith of this extraordinary woman. May God give America more women and statesmen like her.

"Special needs children can bring out the best in people. They draw out compassion, patience, a joy for the simple things in life in people around them," says Wright. "In some ways, we need special needs people more than they need us."
That is, we need the mentally retarded to teach us how to better sacrifice our lives and divest ourselves of our self-interested ways more than they need us to care for them. At Noodlefood, Diana Hsieh condemns such a stand as "the worship of retardation." Given that Palin had complete foreknowledge of her child's severe disability yet nevertheless chose to have it, it is hard not to see her choice as anything less.

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