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The Story: A federal judge has blocked a new Indiana law that bans abortions sought because of an unborn child’s genetic abnormalities.


The Background: In March the Indiana state legislature passed a law that prohibited abortions that were being done solely for the reason that the child had been diagnosed with a genetic abnormality or because there was a “potential diagnosis” of a disability. Other prohibited reasons include the sex, race, and national origin of the child. The law would also have allowed doctors who perform abortions in such cases to be sued for wrongful death, or possibly face professional discipline.

The law was scheduled to take effect this month, but Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky filed suit to bar it from being implemented. Federal judge Tanya Walton Pratt issued a preliminary injunction blocking the law.

“The anti-discrimination provisions of HEA 1337 clearly violate the first of these principles in that they prevent women from obtaining certain abortions before fetal viability,” the ruling said. “The woman’s right to choose to have an abortion pre-viability is categorical; a State may not prohibit any woman from making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy before viability.”

What It Means: “I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it nor will I make a suggestion to this effect,” the Oath of Hippocrates states. “Similarly I will not give to a woman an abortive remedy. In purity and holiness I will guard my life and my art.”

For centuries the ancient physician’s oath, including his admonition against euthanasia, abortion, and assisted suicide, formed the core of medical ethics and one of the most enduring traditions in Western medicine. But late in the 19th century a subtle shift began to occur. The view that a human being had a natural right to live began to erode under the corrosive ideals of the eugenics movement.

As physicians, scientists, and other elites began to determine what qualities of life made life worth living, it became a humanitarian duty to end the lives of those who didn’t possess the necessary traits. “Chloroform unfit children,” said the famed Scopes trial lawyer Clarence Darrow, “show them the same mercy that is shown beasts that are no longer fit to live.”

Eugenics, a term first coined by Charles Darwin’s cousin Francis Galton, popularized the notion that humanity could be improved by encouraging the “most fit” to reproduce more often and discouraging the least fit members of society from procreating at all. From this premise followed the logical necessity of putting to death those who, like people with Down syndrome, have genetic abnormalities that may affect their “quality of life.”

But do such people truly lack “quality of life”? Barbara Curtis not only has a son with the disability but also adopted three other boys with Down syndrome. She notes that instead of being institutionalized, such children are now raised at home, attend class with their peers, and even become homecoming kings and queens:

How could these people who our society so fears that it spends vast amounts of money researching and testing to eliminate end up being number one in the hearts of their classmates?

My simple answer is this: because that’s what they’re all about. God is in the business of changing hearts, and a sprinkling of people with Down syndrome among us is one way he uses.

In his study on the concept of “love,” the philosopher Josef Pieper said that loving someone is a way of saying, “It’s good that you exist; it’s good that you are in the world!” Society, though, is sending the exact opposite message to these homecoming kings and queens. Children who have Down syndrome are encouraged to be discarded, never to exist outside the womb. In essence, they are being told that since they are “unfit” they have no right to live.

Fortunately, our culture doesn’t have Darrow’s perverse commitment to killing children after they are born, so we won’t be chloroforming children anytime soon. But who needs to practice that sort of late-stage eugenics when we can do it at the 11th week of a child’s life?