An inconsistent society—An upside down view of Down’s syndrome abortion
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.
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
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
- The documentary aired in the UK on BBC 2, Wednesday 5 October 2016. Return to text.
- 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.
- Gee, A., A World without Down’s Syndrome?, bbc.co.uk, accessed 7 October 2016. Return to text.
- 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.
- In the past five years, 100% of babies which tested positive for Down’s syndrome were aborted in Iceland. Return to text.
- Halldóra Jónsdóttir, My Opinion, mbl.is, accessed 7 October 2016 (original in Icelandic, Mín skoðun, 15 May 2008). Return to text.
- 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.
- Christian Concern, Campaign launches to tackle abortion on the grounds of disability, 4 October 2016, accessed, 12 October 2016. Return to text.
- Brierly, J., Sally Phillips—How I became a Christian, premierchristianity.com, accessed 7 October 2016. Return to text.