Bioethics Blogs

Ohio bill would forbid abortion of Down Syndrome pregnancies

An interesting article in today’s New York Times, about an effort in Ohio to forbid abortions if the motive is to avoid having a child with Down Syndrome.

Heather Bellegia-Ernst, a mother of a child with DS, notes that nine out of ten DS pregnancies are aborted (I think her facts are a bit skewed)and worries that Down Syndrome will “become extinct” without such laws. Perhaps she was speaking metaphorically, but it’s worth noting that the syndrome is not inherited and therefore cannot become “extinct.” Children with Down very rarely grow up and give birth to more children with Down. Although there are some known risk factors, such as parental age, Down happens pretty much at random. Thus, in every generation pregnant women and couples make independent choices about what is right for them and their families, and as the article notes, most people choose not to continue those pregnancies. We could have a hundred years of no babies being born with Down Syndrome, and reverse that immediately if people began to make different choices.

I certainly empathize with couples who decide not to continue a DS pregnancy; that is probably the choice I would make myself. But it would be interesting to see if decent paid parental leave policies that enabled parents to stay home longer with special needs infants would increase the number of couples who choose to welcome babies with Down Syndrome. Babies with Down are usually harder to feed (they have a weak sucking reflex) and often need surgical repair of physical anomalies.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.