Abortion, Disability, and Coercion

31 Oct
I recently read an article on the DailyMail website which has me infuriated.
Six years ago, a woman in the UK learned she was pregnant and the fetus had Down syndrome. While the woman and her husband were confused and nervous about coping with a child with special needs (on top of caring for their other six children), they never considered having an abortion. They wanted to continue the pregnancy and give birth.

And yet the woman had an abortion.

According to the article (and we have to take the Daily Mail with a grain of salt), she and her husband were bullied by their doctors and nurses. When they went in to discuss how “to be prepared for the fact we might have a disabled child,” the nurse only counseled her on a termination. The nurse continuously pushed abortion even after the couple told her they wanted to continue the pregnancy. Eventually, with a nurse and a consultant bombarding her to terminate, the woman was in a state of shock, and began the abortion.

This is infuriating. This is disgusting. This is anti-choice.

There are actually two problems going on here. First, there is discrimination against people with special needs. As a pro-choice advocate, I support a woman’s right to choose. Without taking away that support, I also question why so many people are afraid to have a child with special needs.  In recent studies, researchers have found that 79% of the responding parents “felt their outlook on life was more positive” because of having a child with Down syndrome. In fact, “only 4% said they felt sad about their life.” While more challenging at times, life with a child with special needs is not the horror story many people imagine.

The difference between the viewpoints of families with children who have Down syndrome, and the women who are considering termination because of Down syndrome is huge. It leads me to question if the pregnant women are fully informed about their decisions, or if they’re just basing their ideas on popular cultural views (I am not trying to imply that women are choosing termination lightly or ignorantly–just that people in positions of power are not giving them the full picture, and they have no way of knowing this).

The way to fix this is clear: stop discriminating against people with special needs. Instead, value those with special needs within our society. Do not just try to make them fit in, but let them excel, stand out and be leaders. In this way, we
can make having a special needs child less terrifying than it seems to be today.

If the above seems like a daunting task, we can always start smaller. Host educational seminars for OB/GYNs about how to support a family that’s going to have a special needs child. Form resource networks between doctors and Down syndrome support groups, so an pregnant woman has someone she can talk to about what to expect. These are simple steps to ensuring that women are fully informed, so they can decide the absolute best choice for their family.

The second issue at hand is the violation of this woman’s right to choose. Forcing or coercing a woman into abortion Is. Not. Pro. Choice. This is an anti-choice behavior. Any pro-choice person who sees someone trying to coerce a woman into a specific decision should immediately speak up against this action. Every pro-choice person should be just as quick to stand up for a woman’s right to continue to term as (s)he is for a woman’s right to terminate.

Anti-choicers are quick to pick up an article like this and claim it proves abortion is absolute evil. Yet it is clear that our world is not that black and white. What the article proves is wrong is coercive practices. For some women, abortion is the wrong choice, while for other women birth is the wrong choice. Neither event- abortion nor birth- is bad in and of itself. But both can be bad when forced upon the woman. This is why antipchoicers are wrong when they call us “pro-abortion” and mean that we only want women to abort. I most certainly do not want every woman to abort. I want every woman to make whichever choice is best for themselves and their families, and to have the support and access to complete that choice.

7 Responses to “Abortion, Disability, and Coercion”

  1. Merinda November 1, 2011 at 2:50 am #

    Thank you for this! This so needs to be said at the moment in particular, and highlights the fact that choice is not the issue – in fact, (real) choice is the way to counter this issue, and the issue of sex selective abortions. Instead of advocating that we should address the social causes of lack of value of those who aren’t perfectly ‘able-bodied’ or of the right gender, it is so easy just to attack abortion and the right to choose. Beautifully said!

  2. Odile November 1, 2011 at 11:06 am #

    Sadly, the story in the ‘Daily Mail’ paints an all too often accurate picture. I would take this one step further to say that even parents who receive a fatal diagnosis for their unborn child should not be coerced to terminate solely for that reason. I have all too often heard medical professionals coldly and clinically offer only one option in cases of known trisomy 21 or fetal anomalies incompatible with life. Who are we to determine what ‘tragedy’ means to parents experiencing these pregnancies? Women should receive all available and truthful information to support their choices. Good point.

  3. elburto November 3, 2011 at 3:46 pm #

    I’m sorry, but I need a proper source before I can judge the story.

    The Daily Mail is anti-feminist, anti-abortion, homophobic, transphobic, and essentially exists to remind the world that women, disabled people, people of colour, and non-christians are destroying Britain.

    Ironically, had the woman in the article given birth to her child, the Daily Fail would have her castigated as an “evil scrounger” or a “benefit cheat”, as part of their current remit that the disabled of Britain are destroying the UK by “refusing” to work and for claiming disability related benefits.

    So please, don’t believe a word of it. Not only does the woman’s experience not reflect NHS practice (plenty of kids with Downs Syndrome in the UK) but is more likely an extension of her own guilt about her abortion, twisted into an entirely different beast by the Fail.

  4. Steph L November 4, 2011 at 11:15 am #

    elburto beat me to it. The Daily Mail is a conservative rag will a predictable gullible audience.

    Reminds me of a similar publication in my area called The Express – another prime example of a conservative rag. I’ve seen similar stories like the one above printed in it, ridiculous opinion pieces that make crazy claims about incidents in abortion clinics (serious ones that are mysteriously never followed up on or merit legal investigation).

    Need more than a grain of salt here.

  5. Odile November 4, 2011 at 12:15 pm #

    Veracity of the ‘Daily Mail’ notwithstanding (I agree, probably not the best source), there is truth in the story, if not in this particular story. Bottom line – when it comes to the choice of abortion, coercion is BAD. Coercion by subduing or witholding relevant medical information is unconscionable.

  6. KushielsMoon November 5, 2011 at 7:33 pm #

    We understand that the Daily Mail needs to be taken with a very large grain of salt. However, I think this post stands true regardless of the truth of the story. Whether it happened or not, we need to include typically and non-typically developing people in our lives, and we need to speak up against coercion when we see it.

  7. MrRoivas December 7, 2011 at 2:54 pm #

    79% of people may report feeling okay about having a down syndrome child, but remember that is a self selecting group. 90% of people abort down syndrome fetuses for a reason.

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