Abortion vs Hardship / Happiness vs Murder – The False Binaries of the Down Syndrome Abortion Debate

I have a new piece up at Reproductive Health Reality Check. It continues to explore the themes of how we generate a new rhetoric for people who are pro-choice, pro-information, and anti-eugenics.

It takes as its lede a story about a woman who wishes she had aborted her child with Down syndrome, born these 47 years ago. Rather than condemn her choices then or her wishes now, I try to unpack her narrative to think about what it says regarding hardship and advocacy.

I write:

Relf wrote that while she loves her son, she wishes she had aborted him. For parents of fetuses with Down syndrome, Relf implied, abortion is the only way out of a lifetime of obstacles.

The broader Down syndrome community of parents typically responds to stories like these with outrage or sadness. Instead of acknowledging the validity of the hardship narrative, we often chooseto promote superficial cute and happy imageries of life with Down syndrome, as if to acknowledge the challenges would be to promote aborting fetuses with disabilities. We, too, have bought into a narrative of limited, inaccurate choices: that someone must either constantly celebrate Down syndrome with no discussion of the difficulties it can present, or effectively be supporting eugenics.

I argue we need something more complex:

So here we have two different false binaries. Neither is true; both remove the agency from people with Down syndrome. Furthermore, neither identifies the clear missing piece—what if, instead of leaving people like Relf isolated and struggling, we identify ways to build a robustly inclusive and caring society? What if we fight to expand access to support for all parents? We can break these dualistic fallacies apart.

So that’s where I stand, at least for now, as my understanding develops. Working to make a better world. Working to make sure prospective parents get the best information possible. And then respecting whatever choices such women make.

2 Replies to “Abortion vs Hardship / Happiness vs Murder – The False Binaries of the Down Syndrome Abortion Debate”

  1. Hayley Goleniowska says:

    So very well thought out. Yes to more support and more dialogue on ways we can make society more inclusive, and yes to more realistic portrayal of DS in our stories. I have long felt dismayed that this discussion is so very black and white.

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