The abortion coverage gap

Baby1I know this is not a news story, but this column by former Washington Post journalist Patricia E. Bauer is deeply moving and will hopefully — I say hopefully — encourage America’s mainstream media to explore the damage legal abortions have done to our society. The column by Bauer deals with how abortion has started to weed out children with disabilities. Reading it this morning nearly moved me to tears, and in conversations with friends of mine in the medical profession and parents (I am neither) I have learned even more that makes me think this is a huge story that has gone completely uncovered.

Bauer, the mother of Margaret, a Down syndrome child, opens her heart to us and explores the ethics of prenatal testing:

Whenever I am out with Margaret, I’m conscious that she represents a group whose ranks are shrinking because of the wide availability of prenatal testing and abortion. I don’t know how many pregnancies are terminated because of prenatal diagnoses of Down syndrome, but some studies estimate 80 to 90 percent.

Imagine. As Margaret bounces through life, especially out here in the land of the perfect body, I see the way people look at her: curious, surprised, sometimes wary, occasionally disapproving or alarmed. I know that most women of childbearing age that we may encounter have judged her and her cohort, and have found their lives to be not worth living.

To them, Margaret falls into the category of avoidable human suffering. At best, a tragic mistake. At worst, a living embodiment of the pro-life movement. Less than human. A drain on society. That someone I love is regarded this way is unspeakably painful to me.

In my discussions with parents and those in the medical field I found out that prenatal testing merely gives the likelihood of a disability — does not prove anything — and that the test puts the mother at risk for a miscarriage. How many lives have been snuffed out unnecessarily? And what does this tell use about the direction our society is heading? Bauer gives us some context:

In ancient Greece, babies with disabilities were left out in the elements to die. We in America rely on prenatal genetic testing to make our selections in private, but the effect on society is the same.

Margaret’s old pediatrician tells me that years ago he used to have a steady stream of patients with Down syndrome. Not anymore. Where did they go, I wonder. On the west side of L.A., they aren’t being born anymore, he says.

And what of the emotional impact on women who do choose to abort their baby because the test showed a likelihood of a birth defect or disability? I am told that it is not healthy and has wrecked lives. It’s time for the mainstream media to take a serious look at the impact abortion has had on our nation.

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  • http://auspiciousdragon.com/ holmegm

    One thing that strikes me personally every time I think of this issue is that two of our children (who joined our family through adoption) are likely alive *only* because they were born outside the U.S. – here their conditions would likely have been detected and likely (by statistics) have led to abortion.

  • http://www.crappychristian.com Marie

    I found it a powerful story too and it gave me reason to pause, particulary when remembering a news piece about some legistlation somewhere about making doctors liable for not telling parents of birth defects early enough so they could get an abortion.
    But there is something else, expectation of burden. My grandmother had my uncle Ray who was blind and slightly retarded and placed him in an institution, having literally a dozen other kids she did not have the resources or the will to deal with his disabilities. Do modern families have the option of saying, “hey this disability is too much for me” and placing a child with the authorities and letting the child live? Or are their only options are to bravely struggle with the disability or quiety kill the child before it is born? People need more options other than death so that it is not the easy answer.
    When Uncle Ray visits he is a lovely man with a positive personality, and deserving of life.

  • http://auspiciousdragon.com holmegm

    Do modern families have the option of saying, “hey this disability is too much for me” and placing a child with the authorities and letting the child live? Or are their only options are to bravely struggle with the disability or quiety kill the child before it is born?

    Yes, they certainly do. They can relinquish custody and place the child for adoption.

  • http://www.newpantagruel.com DK

    “I see the way people look at her: curious, surprised, sometimes wary, occasionally disapproving or alarmed.”

    It’s not uncommon now for people in the professional and academic classes to look this way at any children, particulalry those in the company of young, under ~35, parents.

    Barbara Ehrenreich has defended the economic individualism rationale in the past, seeing the perfect sense of her choice in the past to abort a child rather than fall out of the middle class.

  • http://www.newpantagruel.com DK

    (I meant perfectly normal, healthy, children with no disabilities. It is the mere existence of children, those terrible constraints on personal freedom, that increasingly inspires involuntary reactions of anxiety, perplexion, and probably guilt in some.)

  • Dan Crawford

    Nt Hentoff and others have been sounding the alarms for 20 years of more – the stories are out there – some occasionaly get published.

    The most recent horrifying example was the essay on the joys of selective reduction published in the New York Times Sunday Magazine a while back. Exception for the outrage of a few bloggers, the story went relatively unnoticed. Perhaps because nothing surprises us anymore – not even polite euphemisms for murder.

  • ceemac

    dpulliam wrote:
    And what of the emotional impact on women who do choose to abort their baby because the test showed a likelihood of a birth defect or disability? I am told that it is not healthy and has wrecked lives. It’s time for the mainstream media to take a serious look at the impact abortion has had on our nation.

    ***
    I vaguely remember Koop back when he was Surgeon General doing a scientific study on the emotional/psychological impact abortion had on the women who got them. I don’t remember all the details but I think it was most women had no problems. I remember it because Koop, who had long been a prolifer, took some heat from other prolifers for reporting what he found not what they wanted him to report.

    Don’t know what has been done since then.

  • dpulliam

    I have a copy of this book (The Cost of “Choice”: Women Evaluate the Impact of Abortion) but have yet to read it yet so I could not give an evaluation of it, but it seems to be a solid piece of work on the subject.

  • Michael

    How does one write a story like this with any sense of objectivity? Even the poster’s here have layered it with a lot of assumptions and bias that may not ring true for those making the decision to have an abortion.

    What happens when the story comes out and the women say that while the decision to abort was difficult, it didn’t ruin their lives or they felt content with the decision? It’s the pro-life meme that these abortions are “not healthy and has wrecked lives.”

  • tmatt

    DAN:

    Is there a URL for that story somewhere on line? Did anyone post it or reproduce it?

    Michael:

    The key, for me, is that this highly personal story made some striking claims about trends and facts. What I want to know is why this subject — a very important subject — was not handled in one or more hard news features, perhaps focusing on families on both sides of the divide.

    tmatt (just back in the door from my travels)

  • http://molly.douthett.net Molly

    “…I know that most women of childbearing age that we may encounter have judged her and her cohort, and have found their lives to be not worth living.

    To them, Margaret falls into the category of avoidable human suffering.”

    Opinion.

    “…and that the test puts the mother at risk for a miscarriage.”

    News to me! Are you talking ultrasounds or something more invasive?

  • dpulliam

    Yes Molly, according to those that I’ve spoken with, these tests are more invasive than a basic ultrasound.

  • Micah Weedman

    Religion and Ethics Newsweekly did a decent piece earlier in the summer about a family who aborted after testing, and a family who did not. I’ll look around for the link.

  • Lizzy M.

    “Yes Molly, according to those that I’ve spoken with, these tests are more invasive than a basic ultrasound.”

    There are multiple downs syndrome tests, some of which are more invasive than others. A fairly clear rundown can be found here:

    http://www.ds-health.com/prenatal.htm

  • http://www.newpantagruel.com DK

    Amniocentesis is invasive and can cause spontaneous labor or other injury. There are also some reasons to be concerned with ultrasounds–high intensity sound waves blasting into the mother and child. No reasonable physician today will use them as cavalierly as x-rays were once used. You minimize the use and run the thing as briefly as possible. Same thing with the more basic doppler devices for locating and listening to the child’s heartbeat.

    Terry, are you implying that this story was somewhat buried or devalued by not being done as a “balanced” “news” piece? I think it’s great and indicates the bipartisan and feminist rifts ahead between posthuman technofascist mechanicals and people who see them and their regime as they truly are. The objections here to the “opinions” in this article are irrelevant. They are facts and the truth. You could do the polls and research to say so, and you could write a clinically “balanced” “objective” news story, but this only caters to people who are so polluted with the wrong way of thinking about human concerns that it’s very near a waste of time. This mother tells it like it really is, adn it’s powerful.

    Screw objectivity. There is no such thing. The public knows this, and journalists who deny it are dupes or liars. The intellectual caste knows better too but plays both sides–”objectivity” and “balance” as a way to get things told your way when you can’t get them told totally your way. Look at the Supreme Court nomination battles. What do we have here–”oibjective” coverage of people who say they will be “objective” proceduralists and nobody wants this or believes it is even possible. Objectivity my hairy foot. The Enlightenment is over, and the press and judicial systems rooted in its myths are in crisis.

    Can someone direct me to Nat Hentoff’s writings on prenatal screening and abortion?

  • http://www.newpantagruel.com DK

    A sidenote: so that story appeared on page A25. TOne or style are not nearly as important as placment in a newspaper for indicating how a piece is supposed to be read and what authority ascribed to it.

    But that doesn’t really matter much when it’s online as the object of (currently) 111 blog entries nicely promoted by the Post via Technorati.

    Like I said, the old order is pretty nearly gone.

  • http://onlinefaith.blogspot.com C. Wingate

    For those who don’t have an actual copy of the Post, A25 is the facing page of the editorial section. It contains syndicated columnists and other “not by the editor” opinion pieces. It’s a reasonably prominent placement of such a piece (as opposed, say, to burying it in “Style”.

    As far as the testing issue: been there, done that. The test for screening spina bifida also produces downs results, though not with great reliability. We had a positive for Downs on our last child. The normal followup would be amniocentesis, which has a miscarriage rate. We know a woman who lost a child that way. Since we were not willing to do an abortion anyway, we refused this. Because our son didn’t present strongly for Downs, he was not diagnosed until he was over a year old. In the meantime, we went through a great deal of turmoil. Nobody ever pressured us to test and then abort, I think probably because we were so firm in our refusals. And we had a lot of support through the pregnancy from a woman at work who had a false positive and also chose not to abort.

    What’s most striking about the article, in the context of this blog, though, is the ghost: no religion. Real engagement of the article must begin with the admission that abortion is not just the religious obsession of some Christian sects, but a genuine moral issue, whatever one’s faith.

  • Bec

    Molly, it is an opinion piece. It’s a column.

    But if this were a “news” story, I’m sure it would be fairly simple to find someone who would say that such children bring “avoidable suffering.” Peter Singer comes to mind…

  • http://www.newpantagruel.com DK

    I guess C. Wingate is right, but you know, on reading something like that, I think the “religion” is implicit and pervasive. At least that was how I felt as I read it. Explicitly “Religionizing” it would have some bad effects.

    One of the bad aspects of a lot of popular Christianity that has a lot to do with certain historic reactions in Protestant theology is that it tends not to realize that people who aren’t Christians or religionists of any kind are nevertheless moral creatures, and responding to the moral law is responding to God.

    This sort of article impels the question to any morally sensitive person, “What is the ground and motive of this woman’s response?” She talks about “emotion.” It’s deeper than that. Sometimes a ghost like is a goad and people need to be haunted by it. Ghosts can be good that way. What is bad is writing that is so flatly materialist in outlook that all the ghosts are well-ironed out.

  • Kristine J

    Amnio can cause spontanious abortions, so it is dangerous. I was surprised to find that several of the people I work with (public school teachers & assistants) have refused the testing because none of us would have killed our unborn babies for having Down’s syndrome, and there was no other compelling reason to do the testing. The clinic in town has some doctors who really pressure older (35 yrs old) women to take the test, and one lady even felt that her doctor was implying that it was morally irresponsible to bring a Down’s syndrome baby into the world when the ‘problem could be taken care of’. The same trend that is noticable in West L.A. is also occuring in the Midwest – Many fewer Down’s children. However, the children there are, I must say, are cared for well. They are now mainstreamed into the public schools, and can start school as early as three years old, and stay in school until they’re 21, I believe. This is a far cry from my mother’s memory of a child in a kind of pen in the kitchen of her mother’s friend, or my own cousin being institutionalized from birth because of her Down’s syndrome. I just mention this, because there is help for Down’s children even when the parents decide to raise them with the rest of their family.

  • http://www.newpantagruel.com DK

    How’s this for some intense anti-child spleen from the San Francisco Chronicle?
    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/gate/archive/2005/10/19/notes101905.DTL
    via the american scene:
    http://www.theamericanscene.com/2005/10/sweet-sixteen-so-theres-this-family.php

    Worse than electing to have a child with a disability: having a lot of children.

    The sentiment runs deep back into older anti-catholic prejudices that were publicly permissable up through the 70s in light of the alleged “population explosion.” One conservative Christian book on sex and marriage from that era contended that it was a sin to have more than 5 kids…

  • tmatt

    I thought the op-ed column was fine.

    But it contained elements of hard news that I thought were worthy of serious reporting in a serious newspaper.

    The objectivity riff comes up in GR from time to time. The position of the blog is that objectivity is a term that we can argue about in philosophy class. We all know that there are journalists who are committed to the basics — getting your facts right and making an honest attempt to find solid representatives on both sides of hard issues come to mind — and there are journalists who should work in the European style publications.

    As readers know, I think a crucial factor in all of this — the flip side of basic media bias issues — is the prejudice that many cultural conservatives have toward journalism ITSELF. Most religious conservatives are fans of PR, not journalism.

  • Sherry Coldsmith

    There is a remote chance that amnio can cause a spontaneous miscarriage; something nature causes all the time.

    Hurricane Katrina made me think: what if, in the wake of the disaster, the government issued randomly assigned numbers, requiring anyone who gets a number ending in 13 to house evacuees for an indefinite time. Oh, the outrage that would ensue if the government subjected property owners to such a violation! But it’s perfectly okay, to some people, to violate a pregnant woman even more profoundly than if we forced home-owners to house disaster evacuees.

  • David

    “Most religious conservatives are fans of PR, not journalism.”

    But why do you think that is?

    I bristled when I read that sentence. However, the more I think about it, the more I tend to agree. I simply wonder why that is, though.

  • http://onlinefaith.blogspot.com C. Wingate

    “There is a remote chance that amnio can cause a spontaneous miscarriage; something nature causes all the time.”

    There is no such chance at all. “Spontaneous” here means “without cause”. And “remote” is a matter of value judgement.

    I’m loathe to waste time on moral analogies because we could spend another dozen messages arguing over their accuracy (and I think the Katrina example is crucially inaccurate).

    re “One of the bad aspects of a lot of popular Christianity that has a lot to do with certain historic reactions in Protestant theology is that it tends not to realize that people who aren’t Christians or religionists of any kind are nevertheless moral creatures, and responding to the moral law is responding to God.”:

    Ummmm, I don’t think it has to do with that at all. Moving over to the other hot button, contraception: the issue here is utterly religious. It has to do with a teleology of sexual relations which is argued on theological grounds. The situation with abortion is different because personhood and its consequences are general moral issues. Therefore the alignment of the parties is also different.

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  • http://northhealthdirect.com Kirsten

    I don’t know why do people oppose obortion when it has been declared llegal in UK.


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