OPINION | This article contains political commentary which reflects the author's opinion.
People with disabilities are not just fighting for inclusion and civil rights – they are fighting for their lives.
You might think that whether they have a right to live at all was a question raised long ago by historical monsters such as Adolf Hitler and Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger…and you’d be correct. But that ethical question is still being asked today by abortion activists, medical professionals, legislators and judges.
In a Planned Parenthood versus the State of Missouri case this August, U.S. District Judge Howard Sachs found for the plaintiff when he prohibited the ban on certain “pre-viability” abortions based on “sex, race, or prospective diagnosis of Down Syndrome of an expected infant.” We can speculate that he expects, or even hopes for, procedural challenges – but his initial decision is a bad one.
Modern medical advancements are amazing. We get to see babies sucking their thumbs before they are born through high-tech sonograms. Doctors correct serious problems by performing miraculous prenatal surgery. Innovative prenatal screening tests (like Sachs’ preliminary judgment mentions) save some lives…but they also help to end others deemed unworthy.
Legislating for the elective abortion of pregnancies based on an additional chromosome (47 versus the normal 46) is vile. It’s reminiscent of Sanger, a Darwinian who championed forced eugenics and was opposed to the reproduction of people with disabilities. When you think about it, such ideas are not far from Hitler’s medically administered “mercy deaths.”
For decades, parents of children with disabilities fought to keep them out of institutions…for their right to an education and inclusion in their communities. Today, people with Down Syndrome are actors, athletes, musicians, models and speakers. And they are continuing the fight…this time, simply for the right of people with disabilities to live in the first place.
Actor and Special Olympian Frank Stephens in 2017 gave a stirring congressional testimony arguing against elective abortion for babies with Down Syndrome. It sparked a wildfire of debate earlier this year, after Ashton Kutcher posted the video on Facebook.
Karen Gaffney, a speaker with Down Syndrome, gave an amazing TED talk; it’s featured at the beginning of this article and worth the 14 minutes and 27 seconds of your life, believe me. She is president of her own non-profit organization. Also a long-distance swimmer. Oh – and a college graduate.
Gaffney leaves us with this statement:
“Every life has value. Every life matters, regardless of the number of chromosomes we have.”
But would it make a difference if Stephens and Gaffney were less accomplished and eloquent? How about if they had no special skills? What if they required perpetual care?
Either ALL lives matter…or none of them do.