The Southern Baptist Convention’s public-policy arm is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold a state’s right to outlaw abortions involving a fetus with Down syndrome.
The SBC Ethics and Religious Commission filed a legal document Nov. 15 asking the high court not only to uphold a 2016 Indiana law criminalizing abortions performed for reasons of race, sex selection or “diagnosis of Down syndrome or any other disability,” but to accept the case as an opportunity to overturn Roe v. Wade.
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago declared the law unconstitutional in April, citing “well-established Supreme Court precedent holding that a woman may terminate her pregnancy prior to viability, and that the State may not prohibit a woman from exercising that right for any reason.”
Joined by groups including the National Association of Evangelicals and Concerned Women for America, the ERLC brief calls the appellate court’s ruling a “grievous error, which allows unborn children to be killed because of their sex or race or disability.” The groups argue further that the case “presents a suitable vehicle” to reconsider and possibly overturn the landmark 1973 decision establishing a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy by abortion.
“Eugenics is real, and the states have a compelling interest in preventing it,” the brief warns in part.
“The eugenics movement lost much of its steam after it had been practiced so efficiently by the Nazis in Europe,” the argument goes. “But it has come roaring back with abortion, both in Europe and in our own country.”
The brief singles out “the eugenic practice of aborting children who are tested for potential genetic abnormalities” and asks the court to reconcile “the compelling interest in protecting the disabled with its previous decisions finding a right to abort.”
“This country will one day shudder at the thought of a child being snuffed out in the womb simply because that child had an extra chromosome,” ERLC President Russell Moore said in comments quoted by Baptist Press. “The abortion industry’s defense of abortions based on sex, race and disability exposes their thirst for profit.”
Every cell in the human body contains tiny parts called chromosomes. Most people have 46 chromosomes in each cell. People with Down syndrome have 47, often affecting their appearance and ability to learn.
Down syndrome is associated with intellectual disability, a characteristic facial appearance and a variety of other complications that sometimes become more prominent with age. In 1910 the average life expectancy for a child born with Down syndrome was nine years. With medical advances, today 80 percent of adults with Down syndrome live to be 60 or older.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately one in every 700 babies in the United States is born with Down syndrome, adding up to a total of 6,000 a year. There is no cure, and about two-thirds of American women who receive a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome choose to terminate their pregnancy.
The rate is higher in some other countries. Denmark, for example, where 98 percent of pregnant women carrying an unborn child with Down syndrome choose to abort, projects that in 30 years the condition will be a thing of the past.
As individuals with Down syndrome become increasingly integrated into society – in 2018 Gerber for the first time selected a child with Down syndrome as its official “spokesbaby” – a number of Republican-led state legislatures have passed laws restricting access to abortion in cases where it is involved.
Opponents say such laws do nothing to help people with disabilities, and some parents of children with Down syndrome say they wouldn’t want to impose their decision to give birth on everyone else.
Some disability advocates say outlawing abortions involving Down syndrome presumes that most women diagnosed prenatally will abort and that a better approach would be more public education about the condition and greater acceptance of the people affected by it.