Down syndrome

Aborting for Down syndrome -- and eventually autism? Slate doesn't spot the religion ghost

Aborting for Down syndrome -- and eventually autism? Slate doesn't spot the religion ghost

Not long ago, I was at a picnic with a family whose youngest daughter has Down Syndrome. The child never stopped moving and she had a predilection for (1) Running into the street and (2) Finding the nearest mud puddle and getting herself as dirty as possible. Keeping her still while we ate was a fantasy.

It was impossible to talk for more than a few sentences before the child would run off. I kept on wondering: How do they do it? And knowing in many ways, they are not doing it; that the mom never gets a break except for the few hours a day when the child is in kindergarten.

There’s literature out there about the joys of a Down Syndrome kid, but the reality can be much more complex and even cruel, which is why I was interested in a story in Slate titled “Choosing Life with Down Syndrome.”

It begins with a profile of Celeste Blau, a married woman in her early 30s living in a Cleveland suburb who discovers during her pregnancy that her first child has Down syndrome (DS).

Thanks to advances in pre-natal testing, it’s pretty easy to find out whether your child has the disorder. Typically, one learns of it at about 20 weeks, when a lot of women have ultrasounds to see if they have a boy or girl.

Though not widely discussed in public, the default assumption in certain milieus is that aborting after a Down syndrome diagnosis is now the natural and obvious thing to do. Introduction to this option is, after all, a primary purpose of prenatal testing. In several recent op-eds in the Washington Post, Ruth Marcus articulated the view of the “silenced majority” of women who would have aborted a fetus with Down syndrome if prenatal tests had come back positive: “That was not the child I wanted. That was not the choice I would have made,” she wrote. “You can call me selfish, or worse, but I am in good company. The evidence is clear that most women confronted with the same unhappy alternative would make the same decision.”

The piece then goes into the numerous pieces of actual and proposed legislation now out there that makes it a crime for a woman to abort a child solely because he or she has Down Syndrome.


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In reporting on ruling against Down syndrome abortion law, this pesky detail seems important

In reporting on ruling against Down syndrome abortion law, this pesky detail seems important

Let's consider a mirror-image scenario, as GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly calls it.

The scenario: A federal judge, who once served as a local chapter director and board president for the National Right to Life Committee, hears a case concerning abortion. In his ruling, the judge rejects a new state law friendly toward a woman's right to choose an abortion.

Might news reports on the judge's decision mention his connection to the anti-abortion movement? (You think?)

Now, let's look at a real-life scenario involving a U.S. district judge in Ohio with ties to Planned Parenthood, the nation's leading abortion provider.

CNN reports:

(CNN) — An Ohio federal district court judge blocked legislation that would have banned abortion in cases where a fetus is diagnosed with Down syndrome.
Republican Gov. John Kasich signed the legislation into law in December of last year, and it was scheduled to go into effect March 23. The legislation is now blocked until a final ruling is made in the lawsuit.
In a court order granting a preliminary injunction Wednesday, Southern District of Ohio Judge Timothy Black said that federal abortion law is "crystal clear" that "a State may not prohibit any woman from making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy before viability."

A quick aside: My colleague Julia Duin recently delved into "Outlawing Down syndrome abortions: Isn't religion always part of this news story?" I, too, have explored the holy ghosts that have haunted much coverage of the Ohio legislation.

But for the purposes of this post, my focus is this specific question: Does news coverage of Black's ruling inform readers of his possible bias? In a case such as this, that seems like a pretty crucial detail, right?

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Friday Five: Award-winning religion story, Down syndrome advocate, free cars at church and more

Friday Five: Award-winning religion story, Down syndrome advocate, free cars at church and more

I'm going to bury the lede and do a bit of foreshadowing before we get to the big, happy news in this week's Friday Five.

Previously, GetReligion's own Julia Duin has won two Wilbur Awards, the national honors given by the Religion Communicators Council. The annual prizes celebrate excellence by individuals in secular media in communicating religious issues, values and themes.

Duin's first Wilbur Award came in 2002 and recognized a Washington Times series she co-wrote with Larry Witham on the future of America’s clergy.

In 2015, Duin earned her second Wilbur Award for her "From Rebel to Reverend" piece about Nadia Bolz-Weber for More Magazine.

The 2018 Wilbur Award winners were announced this week. Might Duin claim a third? Stay tuned as we dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: Los Angeles-based freelance writer Heather Adams had an extremely interesting piece this week on an anti-abortion activist who has Down syndrome.

Adams wrote the story for Religion News Service (full disclosure: I also do occasional writing for RNS, including a spot news piece this week on creationist Ken Ham speaking at a public university in Oklahoma).

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Outlawing Down syndrome abortions: Isn't religion always part of this news story?

Outlawing Down syndrome abortions: Isn't religion always part of this news story?

What are the countries with the highest amount of kids with Down syndrome? If you look here, they are the United States, followed by Brazil and Mexico, all of which have highly religious populations.

So you'd think that any article dealing with the syndrome and abortion in highly churched Utah might have something to do with religion.

You might think that. But the topic is not mentioned in this otherwise informative piece by the Washington Post. Once again, it might have helped to consult the religion-desk staff during the reporting process.

At stake is a piece of legislation outlawing abortion -- when Down syndrome is the overriding reason for terminating the pregnancy. 

Karianne Lisonbee stepped up to the lectern to talk about what she called “a terrible form of discrimination.”
The Republican state representative in Utah had just introduced a bill that would make it a crime for a doctor to perform an abortion if a woman is seeking one “solely” because the fetus has Down syndrome. “In recent years, there has been a shocking increase in abortions performed for no other reason than because a prenatal test identified the potential for a trait a parent didn’t like,” she said at the news conference last month.

At this point, most articles would follow up her assertion with some factchecking.

As it turns out, the abortion rate with parents who learn their kid has Down syndrome goes as high as 90 percent internationally and 67 percent in the United States. Instead, this piece quoted the legislator, then added:

The highly controversial legislation -- and similar bills passed in North Dakota, Ohio, Indiana and Louisiana -- has put Down syndrome front and center in the abortion debate when the condition is becoming more widely understood and accepted in the United States. In many neighborhoods today, children with Down syndrome participate in mainstream classrooms and on sports teams. Companies including Safeway, Walgreens and Home Depot have created programs to train and employ adults with the condition (along with adults with other disabilities). This year, Gerber, the maker of baby food, lit up social media with expressions of delight when it announced that it had chosen Lucas Warren -- who has Down syndrome -- as its newest “spokesbaby.”

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Holy ghosts in Ohio: Cincinnati Enquirer reports on debate over aborting Down syndrome babies

Holy ghosts in Ohio: Cincinnati Enquirer reports on debate over aborting Down syndrome babies

So often at GetReligion — here, here, here, here and here, for example — we call attention to the mainstream news media's rampant bias in coverage of the abortion issue.

I'm referring, of course, to the longstanding and indisputable problem of news stories heavily favoring the pro-choice side.

But guess what!?

This isn't going to be one of those posts.

In fact, I'm generally impressed with the balanced, factual nature of the Cincinnati Enquirer's story on a Down syndrome abortion ban going to Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the former moderate Republican presidential candidate.

I do think, however, that the piece is haunted by ghosts. As regular readers know, we refer to them as "holy ghosts." More on that God-sized hole in the Enquirer's otherwise fine report in a moment.

But first, the compelling lede:

COLUMBUS — When a mother receives the news that her child will be born with Down syndrome, should she have the choice to obtain an abortion?
Ohio's GOP-controlled Legislature says "no." Lawmakers, with a 20-12 vote in the Ohio Senate, sent a bill to Gov. John Kasich that would penalize doctors who perform abortions after a fetal diagnosis of Down syndrome. Kasich said in 2015 that he would sign such a bill. 
The proposed law has sparked division within the Down syndrome community.

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Patricia Heaton doesn't work for GetReligion; but her Down syndrome tweet is a must-see

Patricia Heaton doesn't work for GetReligion; but her Down syndrome tweet is a must-see

If you know anything about politics in Hollywood, then you probably know that there are few "players" in that scene who are out-and-proud moral, cultural and religious conservatives.

However, if you are left-of-center on most matters political, yet you also oppose abortion or even simply abortion on demand, then you may be aware that Emmy Award-winning actress Patricia Heaton (click here for her many credits) has been bold enough to serve as the honorary chair of the organization Feminists for Life.

She also has a fairly large following on Twitter, although nothing by Kardashian standings.

So, this progressive pro-lifer is taking on CBS. Why?

Because of a report which, in its online form, has this provocative headline:

"What kind of society do you want to live in?": Inside the country where Down syndrome is disappearing

This long feature opens like this:

With the rise of prenatal screening tests across Europe and the United States, the number of babies born with Down syndrome has significantly decreased, but few countries have come as close to eradicating Down syndrome births as Iceland.
Since prenatal screening tests were introduced in Iceland in the early 2000s, the vast majority of women -- close to 100 percent -- who received a positive test for Down syndrome terminated their pregnancy.
While the tests are optional, the government states that all expectant mothers must be informed about availability of screening tests, which reveal the likelihood of a child being born with Down syndrome. Around 80 to 85 percent of pregnant women choose to take the prenatal screening test, according to Landspitali University Hospital in Reykjavik.

Now, in the world of Twitter push promotion materials, that translates into this:

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That Down syndrome baby: Christmas comes early for the Australian press

That Down syndrome baby: Christmas comes early for the Australian press

Christmas has come early for the Australian press. The case of Gammy, the child born with Down syndrome to a surrogate Thai mother on behalf of an Australian couple, is everything an editor would desire during the dull news days of August.

This gift keeps on giving.

A very bad thing has happened. The press knows it. We readers know it. 

Yet no one appears to have explained why this is wrong. Is this another example of viewing the world from an Anglo-American mindset?  Or are there universal values and ethical considerations that do not need to be explained?

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