There have been exchanges during the week on Twitter and in the mainstream media in which those in favour of legalising abortion have decried those who are against it for trying to make the point that children with disabilities would be particularly vulnerable if the Eighth Amendment is repealed.
Down Syndrome Ireland even got involved, referencing the fact that the Love Both Project was using an image of a little girl with Down syndrome on campaign pamphlets.
They said: “This is very disrespectful to both children and adults with Down syndrome and their families. It is also causing a lot of stress to parents. People with Down syndrome should not be used as an argument for either side of this debate.”
They continued: “We are respectfully asking both sides of the campaign debate, all political parties and any other interested groups to stop exploiting children and adults with Down syndrome to promote their campaign views.”
A father of a girl with Down syndrome also wrote an article in the Journal.ie complaining along the same lines.
He is entitled to his view; but he seems to want to ignore – or be unable to accept – the fact that there are many other parents out there with children who have disabilities too, who do not feel the same way he does.
As for Down Syndrome Ireland, one would think they might understand that not all people with Down syndrome are the same, nor are their parents and families.
There are many parents and family members of children with disabilities – not just Down syndrome – who are extremely concerned about the push to introduce unlimited abortion here, because they know that children like theirs will be the biggest casualty.
In fact, they are so concerned that they are willing to let their images be used to highlight the humanity of their children. Indeed, many people with disabilities themselves feel the same way and are active pro-life supporters. They are entitled to use their own images as they see fit. They are entitled to campaign as free citizens in this country without a group that is supposed to have their interests at heart attempting to put a gagging order on them.
Trying to stop all people with Down syndrome and their families from exercising their democratic right to campaign is repressive and controlling. It is like the National Women’s Council of Ireland saying: no images of women may be used in this campaign because there are women in our organisation who don’t like it/ object to it.
Pro-life groups wish to support these people and their families and wish to ensure the protection of the law for all babies with disabilities so that they are not unfairly targeted because of their disability. The only way to ensure that would be to ban abortion on the grounds of disability, but of course those in favour of repeal will never agree to such a thing. Ultimately, they think that people should have the freedom to abort disabled babies as they wish.
This is why people with disabilities and their families are so concerned. They know that with the introduction of abortion on demand, which is what the Oireachtas Committee has proposed, children with disabilities are particularly vulnerable. We only have to look at the statistics from around the world to see this: in Iceland 100% of babies with Down syndrome diagnosed prenatally are aborted, in Britain it is 90%, Europe-wide it is over 80%.
Their fear is that their children will grow up with fewer and fewer others like them. As isolated as they feel at the moment, this will only increase, as it becomes rarer and rarer to see a person with a disability that can be diagnosed pre-natally. It isn’t just children with Down syndrome who can be ‘screened out’, but also those with spina bifida, cystic fibrosis and a whole host of other anomalies and illnesses that can be spotted on an ultrasound monitor or other test.
As a friend who has a daughter with Down syndrome told me, another consequence of this is that the medical skills necessary to care for children with disabilities are in danger of being lost as fewer and fewer of these children are allowed to be born. She testified to the difference in culture between here and Britain, where she had lived for a while; the doctors there regarded her daughter as something of a curiosity and did not have the same knowledge or experience of the issues that sometimes arise with children who have Down Syndrome compared with here in Ireland.
There are those, like Fintan O’Toole of the Irish Times, who quibble over the figures and say that the percentages only represent those children who were diagnosed in utero – obviously this is the case – why abort for a disability when you have no knowledge of it? But what he can’t deny is the fact that whether it is 100% or 90% or 60%, these babies are far more likely than other babies to be killed in the womb. That is a fact. This is eugenics at work.
The Oireachtas Committee was clearly advised that government focus groups and research found that Irish people feel uncomfortable with the eugenic abortion of children, despite the fact that the Citizens’ Assembly (which was supposed to be representative) voted for abortion up to 22 weeks in the case of a non-fatal disability.
For that reason, in their recommendations, they made only one exception to their general rule that abortion should be freely available. They rejected disability as a stand-alone ground for abortion (which is different from banning abortion on the grounds of disability).
However, with abortion available on demand up to 12 weeks, and in reality up to birth where the woman says her mental health is affected, people will be free to abort babies with disabilities without even having to cite it as a reason. This is what happens in Germany where the abortion law does not include disability as a ground.
Don’t people with disabilities and their families have a right to campaign against this terrible attack on them and their rights? If they haven’t a right to be born, how can they exercise any other rights and seek equality for themselves?
Róisín Ingle, campaigning for repeal, recently tweeted: “If you really do care about children and adults with Down syndrome you won’t use their images to campaign.” To which one might answer: “If you really do care about children – with or without Down syndrome – you won’t campaign for the freedom to kill them before they’re born.”