The Atlantic shocked readers with a polarizing feature that has been accused of promoting the mass abortion of children who are determined to have Down syndrome through prenatal testing — but others feel the story is an important one that needed to be told.
NewsBusters managing editor Curtis Houck accused The Atlantic of cheering eugenics “and the murder of people with Down Syndrome, simply because of who God created them to be.”
“Everyone who works there should be ashamed,” Houck wrote.
The story by Sarah Zhang headlined, “The Last Children of Down Syndrome,” notes that “Prenatal testing is changing who gets born and who doesn’t. This is just the beginning.”
The liberal magazine published the story on Wednesday and it will appear in the December print edition. The lengthy story begins by noting that National Down Syndrome Association head Grete Fält-Hansen is regularly asked about raising a child with Down syndrome.
“Sometimes the caller is a pregnant woman, deciding whether to have an abortion. Sometimes a husband and wife are on the line, the two of them in agonizing disagreement,” Zhang wrote. “Once, Fält-Hansen remembers, it was a couple who had waited for their prenatal screening to come back normal before announcing the pregnancy to friends and family. ‘We wanted to wait,’ they’d told their loved ones, ‘because if it had Down syndrome, we would have had an abortion.’”
Zhang continued: “They called Fält-Hansen after their daughter was born—with slanted eyes, a flattened nose, and, most unmistakable, the extra copy of chromosome 21 that defines Down syndrome. They were afraid their friends and family would now think they didn’t love their daughter—so heavy are the moral judgments that accompany wanting or not wanting to bring a child with a disability into the world.”
Fält-Hansen also has a child with Down syndrome and The Atlantic feature notes that her native Denmark became one of the first countries in the world to offer prenatal Down syndrome screening to every pregnant woman back in 2004.
“Nearly all expecting mothers choose to take the test; of those who get a Down syndrome diagnosis, more than 95 percent choose to abort,” Zhang wrote, noting that “the number of children born with Down syndrome has fallen sharply” since widespread testing began.
“Few people speak publicly about wanting to ‘eliminate’ Down syndrome. Yet individual choices are adding up to something very close to that,” Zhang wrote.
The story then turns to eugenics, which it explains is a word that “evokes images that are specific and heinous: forced sterilization of the “feebleminded” in early-20th-century America, which in turn inspired the racial hygiene of the Nazis, who gassed or otherwise killed tens of thousands of people with disabilities, many of them children.”
The author explained that eugenics “in Denmark never became as systematic and violent as it did in Germany” but “improving the health of a nation by preventing the birth of those deemed to be burdens on society” remains the goal.
Zhang then detailed time spent with various parents of children with Down syndrome, some of whom would have preferred to have an abortion in hindsight. She also spoke with women who chose to abort babies after learning they had Down syndrome. She also spoke with various experts in the field and parents about how difficult the choice can be.
The story shocked and offended many readers who took to Twitter with thoughts:
Others defended the article: