An open letter to The Washington Post Editor Ruth Marcus:
By David G. Lejeune, President, Jerome Lejeune Foundation USA
Editor’s note. Mr. Lejeune drafted this open letter in response to The Washington Post op-ed titled “I would’ve aborted a fetus with Down syndrome. Women need that right” by deputy editorial page editor Ruth Marcus. It was composed on World Down Syndrome Day.
Dear Ruth Marcus,
In your op-ed in The Washington Post, you claim that you would have terminated your pregnancies had the testing for each child come back positive for Down syndrome. While you are free to voice your personal opinion, even an ill-considered one, I am compelled to publicly refute the statements you made regarding aborting children with Down syndrome.
Lives are at stake. If your advice were accepted by others, the lives of innocent children would be eliminated and families would be deprived of loving, beautiful human beings who contribute immensely to human flourishing.
Here are five reasons why your views are dangerous:
I. EUGENICS IS ALWAYS WRONG
The policy you are advocating has its genesis in the dark world of eugenics, where children are selectively eliminated because something about them is considered to be undesirable. You believe that it is acceptable to terminate a pregnancy if you do not want a child, but you go a step further – you celebrate the right to selectively terminate a pregnancy when the particular child is not wanted.
Eugenics, by its very definition, is “the practice or advocacy of controlled selective breeding of human populations to improve the population’s genetic composition” (Merriam-Webster). Eugenics has a long history that goes hand-in-hand with racism, hatred, and disability discrimination.
We don’t have to go back in history to understand the practical impacts of the policy you are advocating – the elimination of a particular child because something about them is considered to be undesirable. We need look only at China’s “one child” policy to understand the implications.
In China, families have been strictly limited to one child, and forced abortions occur by the millions, along with infanticide, to enforce it. In China, there is a traditional preference for boys, and in a one-child world female children are considered to be undesirable. As a consequence, it’s estimated that 100 million female children have been aborted in China.
As a feminist, how do you reconcile tacit support for the underlying principle of eugenics that has resulted in the death of so many female children?
Of course, people with genetic abnormalities or disabilities stand no chance of being accepted in a society that tolerates eugenics. Abortion for the sole reason of eliminating a particular child, one with Down syndrome, is no different that eliminating a child because she is female. It’s simply modern eugenics, and it is wrong. Once you go down this path, where does it end?
I think you know that what I am saying is right, because you are forced to admit that, “There are creepy, eugenic aspects of the new technology that call for vigorous public debate.” But in an “ends justify the means” equivocation, you quickly pivot to affirm that the absolute right to abortion trumps any concern over elimination of human beings with certain characteristics. So you justify abortion of children with Down syndrome in the same way that China justifies abortion of children of the female gender.
What’s next? What other characteristics that people might consider to be undesirable should justify a particular child’s elimination? Race? Prospective IQ? Disability like blindness or deafness? The slippery slope you are on has no principled ending point. The issue of whether a child should be allowed to live even if he or she is not wanted due to minor characteristics should not even be a question. We all have a basic right to life.
II. THERE IS NO CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT IN THE U.S. TO ABORT AN UNBORN CHILD WITH DOWN SYNDROME
III. YOU APPEAL TO MORALITY, BUT THERE IS NOTHING MORAL ABOUT YOUR POSITION
IV. THE PURPOSE OF PRENATAL TESTING IS NOT TO DECIDE WHETHER TO KILL A BABY
V. YOUR STATEMENTS DEVALUE THE LIVES OF THOSE LIVING WITH DOWN SYNDROME
Ms. Marcus, today is World Down Syndrome Day as established by the United Nations, and I stand with millions of people across the globe to raise public awareness and support for individuals with Down syndrome. This year we emphasize “how people with Down syndrome can and do make meaningful contributions throughout their lives, whether in schools, workplaces, living in the community, public and political life, culture, media, recreation, leisure and sport.”
A life with Down syndrome is a life worth living, and a life worth defending. I stand with my brothers and sisters with Down syndrome and ask you to reconsider your beliefs and the dangerous effect your words may have on vulnerable children in the United States and beyond.
David G. Lejeune