Why Down syndrome should be a feminist issue

Why Down syndrome should be a feminist issue

Fighting for the acceptance and inclusion of people with Down syndrome is an important cause for us. But so often, it is pitted against women’s rights, when the two should not be in conflict. Instead of being pressured into an abortion because it is their “right” to abort a child with Down syndrome, women have a right to celebrate and advocate for their children with Down syndrome.

As Rachael Wong put it so well in her recent article featured on MercatorNet:

There is regrettably also a logical disconnect in our society when it comes to celebrating love, inclusion, diversity, human rights, and the strength of the human spirit on the one hand, and an obsession with perfection, control, choice, abortion rights and avoiding suffering on the other.

The pressure to abort babies with Down syndrome is very real – and it should not have to be a reality for expectant mothers. One Australian mother shared her experience about a doctor who assumed that she would abort her baby as soon as she got a diagnosis of Down syndrome:

“I think medical professionals in particular need to be so careful about their language and assumptions when it comes to talking about babies with Down syndrome. I cannot fathom my life without my Lily. I still get upset thinking about the doctor trying to organise my termination…Life with Lily has been so unbelievably rewarding. She really does live in the moment and what you see is what you get. In a way, it’s her who’s teaching me. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Feminism is about letting woman have control of their own bodies, and having the freedom to make their own decisions. That is why women should be supported in their decisions to love and care for their child with Down syndrome.

On a related note, women deserve to be told the truth about what it is like to have a child with Down syndrome. Often, when a woman finds out she is expecting a child with Down syndrome, she is presented with false information about what it will be like. Although children with Down syndrome often have heart issues and other health problems, many are born healthy without these extra complications. However, women are often scared by doctors into having an abortion, or, in countries like Iceland, are made to feel as if Down syndrome is a disease and “eradicating” is their duty.

Woman don’t need to worry about having a “perfect child.” As Wong pointed out:

The eugenic nature of pre-natal screening and abortion for children with Down syndrome was addressed by Charlotte Fien, a prominent human rights speaker with Down syndrome, at an event co-organised by the Jerome Lejeune Foundation at the United Nations last week. Fien said that a perfect family and society are not possible:

“There is no such thing as perfection. You can try to kill off everyone with Down syndrome by using abortion, but you won’t be any closer to a perfect society. You will just be closer to a cruel, heartless one, in my opinion.”

Society pressures women to have perfect careers, perfect bodies, perfect lives, and feminists fight against those expectations. Why shouldn’t we also fight against the stigma that comes from having a child with Down syndrome? Children with down syndrome may not be “perfect” in the world’s eyes, but they are in ours.

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