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An inconsistent society—An upside down view of Down’s syndrome abortion


Published: 17 November 2016 (GMT+10)
Sally Phillips with Halldóra Jónsdóttir who wrote about her experiences.

Actress Sally Phillips, best known for her role in the Bridget Jones films, and mother of a son with Down’s syndrome (in some countries Down syndrome), recently produced a documentary for the BBC provocatively titled: A World Without Down’s Syndrome?1 It focused on the very high percentage of abortions in relation to women who have found out that there is a likelihood that their child will be born with Down’s syndrome.2 In the current screening offered by the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK, which is based upon measuring the unborn child in the womb and a blood test, “There is an 85% to 90% chance that the existing test will pick it up, but about 2.5% of positive results are false and these babies don’t have Down’s”.3 To have the diagnosis confirmed the NHS then conducts an invasive procedure using a fine needle, required to obtain the child’s DNA, with one in every 100 of these procedures causing a miscarriage.

Approval has now been given for a new non-invasive prenatal blood test (NIPT), to be offered to women through the NHS instead, which has up to a 99% success rate in identifying Down’s syndrome. Phillips, aware that the NIPT had been approved, clearly intended to make her viewers aware that this screening process could potentially lead to the abortion of many more people with Down’s syndrome in the UK, and questioned if society now needed to have a larger conversation about the ethics of doing so.

Sad statistics

The documentary highlighted that, currently in the UK, nine out of 10 women choose to abort their child once they have been informed that there is the potential that they will have Down’s syndrome, and that Denmark has a national health goal of being ‘Down’s-free by 2020’.4 Sadly, there is no need to guess at how this would be obtained—through more death in the womb. As part of her documentary, Phillips also visited Iceland where there is currently a 100% abortion rate for babies diagnosed with Down’s syndrome 5 and the Down’s syndrome population is dwindling. While in Iceland Phillips met a woman with Down’s syndrome, Halldóra Jónsdóttir, who had published an article talking about her life and all the things that she enjoys. In Halldóra’s article she asks the very pertinent question, “Who can say that people with Down’s Syndrome are less valuable that anyone else?”6

Inconsistent society

Lee Thompson/News group Kevin-Shinkwin
Lord Shinkwin, who advocates for the rights of the disabled.

The UK (with many other countries also falling into this category) appears to be a society of contradictions, with a person’s value apparently only assigned at birth! Attack a person with Down’s syndrome for their disability and it’s called a hate crime, rightly dealt with by the condemnation of society and the full force of the law. Yet develop a test to screen them out of society and murder them in the womb and most don’t bat an eyelid!7 Surely even a society in which evolutionary dogma pervades its thoughts ought to see the total inconsistency in such a position? When it is stated so overtly, many often see the shameful act for what it is, as with the plethora of disapproving remarks that Richards Dawkins received for recently suggesting that it was immoral to bring a child with Down’s syndrome into the world.

To try and address this very obvious inconsistency, Lord Shinkwin, a Conservative Peer in the House of Lords, who is himself disabled with brittle bone disease, introduced an Abortion (Disability Equality) Bill on 25 May 2016.The Bill proposes that a section from the 1967 Abortion Act, which allows abortion on the grounds of disability up to birth, should be repealed. Highlighting the inconsistency, Lord Shinkwin told the House of Lords, “Discrimination on the grounds of disability after birth is outlawed. Yet today legal and lethal discrimination on the grounds of disability is allowed up to birth by law.”8

Bringing it back to Biblical creation and re-ingraining the value of life

“Open your mouth for the mute” (Proverbs 31:8). The Bible is clear, that it is a Christian’s duty to speak out for those who have no voice of their own. In some way this is what Phillips has attempted to do in relation to children being aborted simply because they may have Down’s syndrome. However, unfortunately she failed to rest her case on a firmer foundation. Phillips, who has previously openly spoken about her Christian faith,9 failed to acknowledge it during the documentary, and sadly made pro-choice statements (see the problems with this here) which many secular reporters have picked up on (and obviously agreed with).

While Phillips rightly pointed out some of the wonderful achievements that people with Down’s syndrome are accomplishing, their increased life expectancy, and the greater understanding of how to better interact and educate them, this is not what their inherent value is based upon. Whether someone has Down’s syndrome or not, our true, intrinsic value is found in the fact that we are all made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27)—not what we may or may not do with our lives, not what we may or may not be capable of, nor how long we may or may not live. A person is so much more that than the medical description of a disability that they may have. If the documentary had been based on this Biblical premise it would have presented a much stronger case with a solid foundation. Only the firm foundation of Biblical creation creates a position in which this shared quality given to humanity by God makes us all equal. Unfortunately, as the majority within society now espouse some form of evolutionary origin for mankind—which removes their unique and special position in God’s created order—this would need to be re-ingrained back into society for the evil of abortion to be properly dealt with.

Information provided about Down’s syndrome, in a kind and considerate manner without prejudiced presumptions, can certainly be a valuable tool for prospective parents who are considering the needs of their future child. But the knowledge that a child likely has Down’s syndrome before his/her birth, should never be used in a Nazi-like fashion to eradicate the most vulnerable in our society. The whole topic of screening before birth, and then allowing abortions to take place based on the findings of that screening, also raises the larger question of who decides what should and shouldn’t be screened for and how far that idea can be taken? The larger discussion that society should really be having is how best to help people who have disabilities in a fallen world, not how best to screen them out. Oh, that society would turn to their Creator God, falling on their knees and crying at the appalling actions that we are allowing to happen!

References and notes

  1. The documentary aired in the UK on BBC 2, Wednesday 5 October 2016. Return to text.
  2. Currently in the UK an abortion can take place up to birth if tests indicate that the child may be severely disabled when born. Down’s syndrome is classified as a severe disability. Return to text.
  3. Gee, A., A World without Down’s Syndrome?, bbc.co.uk, accessed 7 October 2016. Return to text.
  4. Mbriant, Miranda’s Sally Phillips: I became a ‘tiger mother’ when I was told my baby had Down’s syndrome, whatsontv.co.uk, 28 September 2016, accessed 12 October 2016. Return to text.
  5. In the past five years, 100% of babies which tested positive for Down’s syndrome were aborted in Iceland. Return to text.
  6. Halldóra Jónsdóttir, My Opinion, mbl.is, accessed 7 October 2016 (original in Icelandic, Mín skoðun, 15 May 2008). Return to text.
  7. Ironically as I write this article it is National Hate Crime Awareness Week in the U.K., 8–15 October 2016, and Prime Minister Theresa May has released a statement saying, “Hate crime has no place in Britain. … everybody living in this country is equal”. May, T., Hate Crime Awareness Week 2016: Theresa May’s message, gov.uk, accessed 11 October 2016. Return to text.
  8. Christian Concern, Campaign launches to tackle abortion on the grounds of disability, 4 October 2016, accessed, 12 October 2016. Return to text.
  9. Brierly, J., Sally Phillips—How I became a Christian, premierchristianity.com, accessed 7 October 2016. Return to text.

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Readers’ comments

Harry B.
Wait a minute here. Murdering an unborn child just because they happen to be different? What gives with that? When Jesus said suffer the little children to come to him I'm certain he didn't mean the legalised murder that is abortion. I have a disability too, mate, I'm autistic. So are those who support the killing of unborn babies who have Down's Syndrome going to call for my death too because I'm different? This is just plain heinous. So what if they're different? What does that matter? Give me the guileless simplicity and honesty of someone with Down's Syndrome anytime over the plastic masks most "normal people" - I use that term very loosely - put on any day. We could use a lot more of their kind of love in the world.
David H.
I understand the difficult situation that CB talks about with respect to abortion, and I partly agree with her. At the same time, if you acknowledge that aborting a live pre-born baby is killing them, there are situations that do warrant it. I can list a few, such as the instance where a fertilised zygote passed through the fallopian tube and attached to the wall of the intestine, and started to grow there. The more common situation where the zygote establishes in the fallopian tube is another case in point. There are also considerations where the baby cannot survive birth or life outside the womb, and the difficult condemnation I felt from 'Christians' when we decided to abort a baby where the placenta had delivered and the baby had died, but did not miscarry. I heard "Oh you shouldn't have aborted the baby because God can bring people back from the dead."

I understand these situations, but these are not the ones that are disputed by most Christians. However the treatment that such children may receive after birth is not a good reason for abortion, since there are a huge number of cruel people in this world who will abuse children no matter what, and so many who love and care for them in spite of their problems. This is a parent issue, not a child issue.

Bless you anyway C.B. Australia.
David H.
I know, let's test for and abort any pre-born baby with findings of vulnerability to diabetes as well, and how about Aspergers or Autism, and what about aborting those who are likely to need glasses at some point in their lives, or those who would night be vulnerable to needing dental fillings. Now, who are we left with?

In case you didn't realise, this is hyperbole, and in case you aren't aware, hyperbole is something that Jesus uses in His teachings, so please don't get the impression that I'm advocating this position, just showing how illogical the situation is. And to show I'm serious, I not only wear glasses and have dental fillings, I also have the condition known as Asperger's Syndrome. I just wanted to show that this reason for abortion is illogical.
Kim B.
My daughter, when pregnant with her second child, after tests was told that there were "soft indicators" of Down's Syndrome, & were given counselling regarding their options, which amounted to this: "Oh, we abort all the Downies". That is exactly as it was said to them!! Thankfully, they ignored the "advice", & after much prayer our grandson was born perfectly normal.
C. B.
I am Christian and I do not agree with this article. Abortion is wrong, yes, when used as a method of birth control. But disabled children do have a much higher rate of abuse than normal children, who themselves have an extremely high rate when we consider world history and unreported or mismanaged cases. To choose to let a disabled child go home to Jesus rather than (eventually) be left at the mercy of institutionalised unChristian abuse, is far more merciful. Most genuine loving carers break down in the end and resort to institutions, then suffer themselves with guilt and remorse. No, I believe that God will not condemn us for a genuine desire to do the best for the child, and by the way, I myself am disabled.
Philip Bell
Dear Carolyn,
With respect, if abortion is morally wrong, it is wrong whatever the circumstances. The moment we allow ourselves to argue for exceptions (on whatever grounds, including that we personally might feel it is more 'merciful' in some circumstances), we have effectively taken the step of 'playing God'. Tragic though instances of abuse are, whether institutional abuse or not, intentionally to take the life of a human being in the womb cannot be justified on the grounds that it is "best for the child". Nowhere in the Bible does God sanction this.
Louise G.
In the article it says nine out of ten women in the UK choose to abort their baby if the test shows a possibility of Downs Syndrome. That means only one out of ten decide to keep their baby. How sad. I have four children and we decided that, no matter what, we'd love and cherish our children.
When I was little some family friends used to visit us. They had six boys, one of whom had Downs Syndrome. He was so loved in that family and all his brothers looked out for him. He did very well in swimming and was always winning competitions. I remember how loving he was.
V. W.
"Mental defects" are a misnomer. They are termed "differently abled" because they can outperform "normal" people in respective skills. Retarded people show higher compassion and EQ [Ed: a measure of 'emotional intelligence'].
Because of our evolutionary bias we fail to appreciate this genius. Why aren't musical savants performing in Carnegie Hall? or those with math savants assisting in physics research? The difficult parts of their personality would then be viewed as an inconvenience.
I'm asked: "pro choice" or "pro life"? I'm both and the real problem is: we are abusing teens and destroying the hypocratic oath by not providing full disclosure. 60% of abortions are for girls 16 or younger [Ed: depending on the country]. By law, their parents can't be informed. The doctor compares the procedure to removing a wart. They are not informed (as a psychologist informed me) of the many reports of women with severe depression, guilt, anger. Once they realized they terminated a life (even a potential life). ...
M. K.
I have always felt strongly against abortion, however, I have a question. You believe that death only refers to nephesh chayyah beings, but until a certain moment during the pregnancy, a foetus has no backbone, so would it not be nephesh chayyah and abortion would not be murder by your logic?
Philip Bell
On the contrary, with respect, I fail to see your logic. An organism that qualified as a nephesh chayyāh would be so regardless of the stage of development. Human life (definitely nephesh) begins at conception (see for example here).
Robert D.
Lets hope and pray that evolution's own High Priest (Dawkins / Saul) meets Christ and becomes a new Paul, and that by the Spirit, he leads many of his current followers to the King. Only thing that will save their own souls and these little babies lives...
Paul T.
It makes me wonder in the future how moving the concept of Eugenics to the pre-born child will affect society. Just what criteria could be used to 'cleanse' society of genetically imperfect people? With every generation being introduced to more pollutants and to defects within our genetic makeup, the more babies there will be who would likely be aborted. Not only that, it would not take much for instance for criteria on which babies can be aborted to be changed. What if there are genetic links found with people who are prone to cancer, or asthma? Could it be justfied in the eyes of society to abort a baby in the likelihood that they may develop these when born? What if pollutants are causing certain genetic issues and removal of such pollutants allows the body to heal itself? Surely killing babies that are deemed unfit for birth means that no further research is justified in finding a cure for such diseases? And if no cure is possible, a death sentence is carried out without a crime being committed by the accused? The next step would be babies who are born with what society sees as imperfection being killed. Or perhaps insurance companies refusing cover if you choose to have a baby likely to have a 'defect'. Bit by bit the line in the sand is redrawn and society begins to see such changes as normal. In the end none of us are perfect and sin affects all of society. If society is seen as the main source of morality, then morality becomes a continually changing concept, much like evolution is a constantly changing story. Morality continues to be at the whim of society. However, as we are all accountable to a never changing God who is the one who defines true morality, it will be no surprise if God holds us accountable for the deaths of the innocent.
Ken C.
People with Downs Syndrome are some of the most charitable unassuming people that I have ever encountered. They are a joy to be with.
N. O.
Good article. I have also realized this inconsistency: first, we are told that people with DS are "special" and just as much human as anyone else, then we are told to give women respect as they have abortions to avoid a child with DS.

In the same way, the word "handicap" have almost become a forbidden word in Sweden, as it is considered too discriminate: instead, you should say "functional variation". Personally, I think it is just an expression of the same double standard as Phil Robinson is writing about.
I. E.
I am sad about the deplorable philosophy of life prevalent in the West today, butchering babies just for convenience. Double standards are the norm; i.e. In a hospital, a woman would not be paid for medical assistance but the same hospital would be willing to pay for her assisted suicide! At least in my country abortion is strictly forbidden and I want it to remain that way. How hypocritical for the "New Atheists" to call God a mass murderer while at the same breath promoting abortion and assisted suicide (especially for the disabled). This mentality smacks of the twisted morality of the Third Reich.
Mark E.
This article grieves my heart terribly, but in a secularized society hell bent on eliminating God and His call on morality and right living in our society, people murdering babies before they are born is consistent with their beliefs. Since secularists only have THIS life to enjoy, they don't want to be inconvenienced and distracted by having to include a disabled person in their lives. Without the future Glory with God to enjoy, this life is all they have. We were privileged to have our first child born with Down Syndrome (DS) some 33 years ago. Our daughter loves Jesus, is more caring, forgiving, loving and gentle than most Christians I know, and blesses us every day with her wonderful cuddles and beautiful smile and laughter. Never a bad word has left her mouth. We wouldn't have it any other way as she has infected all our children with a special perspective on life. We are ALL disabled by sin and need acceptance from each other and forgiveness from our Creator Father. With chronic arthritis, extreme coeliac disease, and as of 8 years ago now totally blind, she is a most special gift and blessing from God who challenges our parenting and teaches us love, acceptance, forbearance, patience, forgiveness, gentleness, faith and love. We love our other children just as much but our oldest daughter brings something extra special into our world. We were offered the amniotic fluid test upon pregnancy with our second child and told the doctor, 'What's the point? We aren't going to abort. If we have another DS child, we'll love it and accept it just as much as our first.' We shouldn't be surprised by the behavior of a world without God, with confused morality and standards. Praise the Lord that with Him, disability is a blessing, not a curse or an inconvenience.
Chris B.
We try so hard to create a perfect world without God. Built on the blood of the innocent.
James J.
Abortion today is really no different than the practice of offering children to Molech. It is done in hope of creating a better life for those doing the killing. As our pastor once stated in a sermon on the Old Testament, "We are not more civilized than them. We are merely more technologically sophisticated."
Ken C.
Excellent article... Thank You!
Kevin S.
I'm surprised that this article did not raise the question of the probable true motivation of Down's abortions: convenience. In the majority of cases (as with most abortions) it has nothing do do with the quality of life of the child, but the parent. I've known adults and children with Downs and they are not only, in general, highly functional, but are also some of the happiest people I have ever met. My wife is an OB/GYN and has discussed options with many expectant mothers and, when compassionately confronted, they almost invariably indirectly admit that it's the parent's quality of life they are concerned with, not the baby's.

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