From the NYT article about McCain's choice of Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska as his running mate:
Now, I realize that Palin is, in fact, anti-choice, so that's not my beef here (I mean, I don't agree, but her opinion, whatever). What disgusts me is that the way this is phrased seems to imply somehow that choosing not to abort a fetus with Down syndrome is a remarkable and unusual sacrifice that only someone against abortion rights would choose. Which also seems to imply that pro-choice women, upon finding out that they were carrying a child with Down syndrome, would LEAP to abort. That pro-choice people would all consider it appropriate to abort a fetus with Down syndrome. That Palin is somehow bucking some kind of pressure from abortion-rights supporters to DO AWAY WITH ALL EVEN-SLIGHTLY-DEFECTIVE BABIES!!!!
As a supporter of choice, I would defend someone's right to abort a fetus with Down syndrome, in the same way that I would defend someone's right to abort a fetus under any circumstances. That's what the law says, folks. You don't get to say, this reason for abortion is valid, and this one isn't.
But at the same time, I don't know anyone who says, Oh, abortion, yay, now I can get rid of that icky Down syndrome baby I don't want to have because it's not ABSOLUTELY PERFECT!!!*
First, that's incredibly insulting to individuals with Down syndrome and the families who love and cherish them. Choosing to keep a Down's baby? OMG the horror!!! As I understand it (which is not especially well, so feel free to correct me, but this is my understanding), people with Down syndrome can have an incredible range of abilities and impairments. So learning that she was going to have a baby with Down syndrome certainly does not mean Palin found out that she was going to be caring for an unresponsive vegetable for the rest of her son's life. I'm sure that any Down syndrome child presents problems that parents of a non-Down's child don't face. But does that mean a Down syndrome child is automatically a greater burden than a non-Down's child? Is caring for a child with Down's somehow qualitatively worse than, say, caring for a child who develops a drug addiction? who breaks his back in a skiing accident and ends up a paraplegic? who turns out, god forbid, to be a sociopathic killer? (I know that sounds awful, but sadly, someone has to give birth to sociopathic killers.) I find insulting the article's assumption that Down syndrome automatically renders a child such a burden as to justify considering abortion, and that Palin's choice not to do so is a noble sacrifice.
Finally, the idea that pro-choicers are leaping to abort Down syndrom children is a red herring. Does anyone have actual statistics to show that there are significant percentages of women who find out they're carrying a Down's baby who abort that child? What I think this article does is conflate aborting a Down syndrome fetus with aborting a fetus with such severe birth defects that it will not survive outside the womb, or, the more difficult situation, aborting a fetus with such severe birth defects that the child will require constant medical care and will never have what we generally recognize as a decent quality of life. I've read a couple of bloggers whose experiences fall into this category, and I can't imagine being in their position. To praise Palin's choice not to abort a fetus with Down syndrome seems to gloss right over the truly serious questions that severe fetal birth defects raise, and the real reason why abortion should remain legal and accessible - not so women can abort a baby that isn't "perfect," but so women have available to them the widest possible range of solutions to the problems that might arise in their pregnancies. To me, the value of keeping those solutions available is far greater than the danger of "selfish" abortions, because I believe that women take pretty damn seriously what's going on in their own bodies and their own lives, and are in the best position to determine what should happen to/in those bodies. (And if a woman does abort because a Down's child isn't "perfect" or "pretty enough" for her? Do you really think that woman should be parenting in the first place?)
I know abortion is a hot-button issue (duh! cliche!), and I don't mean this post as a statement on abortion in the abstract (though I realize that my opinion is pretty clear!). All I'm saying is that the perspective displayed in the quote above seems pretty insulting regardless of how you feel about abortion.**
(Rereading this rant, I should probably make clear that the Times is just reporting religious conservatives' take on Palin's decision, and I should be mad at them, not the paper. Okay. I'm mad at them. Read "article" above as "the article's representation of what religious conservatives think" - that's too long to write every time, anyway.)
*Before anyone can write in with an example: yes, there well may be individual people out there who have said this. But it's not a plank in the support-for-abortion-rights platform. More likely, women who have aborted fetuses they know to have Down syndrome have made hard decisions about what kind of parenting they, personally, are equipped to do both materially and psychologically. A woman who aborts a fetus with Down's because she doesn't have the material resources to give that child what it needs is making a very different decision from a woman who aborts a fetus with Down's because it's not the kind of baby she wants (though I should add that these are moral decisions, not legal ones; legally, both women are in the right, as long as the pregnancy hasn't progressed past a certain point). Assuming that the former is the same as the latter is an insult to women's ability to judge their own circumstances. Besides, there are plenty of people who say, Oh, children, yay, now I can have a child as the perfect accessory for my perfect life!, but you don't see people arguing that because some people have children for crappy reasons, therefore NO ONE SHOULD EVER have children.
**I may perhaps be crankier than usual about this because of being subjected to anti-abortion protesters plastering the bridges over the highway I take to school with posters with graphic photos of the results of late-term abortions. Dude. Totally uncool. And not because I should be confronted with the logical result of my beliefs; I'm cool with my beliefs. Graphic photos are just manipulative and used purely for shock value. I'm cool with appendectomies, too, but I don't want to see pictures of them over the road I have to travel for work.