Recently a video has been making the rounds on social media, which received some comment on this side of the Atlantic, but really deserves much more attention and praise. Lord Shinkwin, a Conservative Member of the House of Lords, spoke boldly on the floor of Parliament in defense of unborn children whose lives are threatened by abortion merely because they have been prenatally diagnosed with a disability.
“I can see from the trends in abortion on grounds of disability that the writing is on the wall for people like me. People with congenital disabilities are facing extinction. If we were animals, perhaps we might qualify for protection as endangered species. But we are only human beings with disabilities, so we don’t qualify.”
Lord Shinkwin’s words were all the more moving as he himself is disabled. His Lordship has a congenital condition called osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as brittle bone disease. Those who have osteogenesis imperfecta have bones that fracture very easily or are improperly formed. Despite his condition, which some might see as a setback, Lord Shinkwin has had a long career of public service and charitable work.
The Abortion (Disability Equality) Bill was originally introduced by Lord Shinkwin last May and was again defended in late January as the bill was brought to the Committee stage. The purpose of the bill is to protect unborn children from discrimination-based abortions.
In Britain, as in the United States, discrimination on the basis of disability is generally unlawful. However, these protections are not extended to unborn children. Regardless of the nature of the child’s disability, many disabled children are denied the opportunity to be born.
The Scotsman reports, “Between 2005 and 2015, there was a 68 per cent increase in abortions on the grounds of disability in the UK and from 1995 to 2005, a 143 per cent increase in terminations for Down Syndrome specifically.” In remarks made last October, Lord Shinkwin stated that, according to official UK Department of Health statistics, 11 children were aborted in 2015 due to a “clefted lip or palate” – a condition that can be very easily corrected with minor surgery.
In the United States, it is difficult to determine the number of babies aborted each year due to disability or congenital condition simply because abortion reporting in the U.S. is generally so poor. However, recent studies estimate the American Down Syndrome termination rate at roughly 67 percent, which suggests that our attitudes toward disability may not be quite so different from our neighbors across the pond.
In the modern world, not many people give serious thought to the idea of eugenics. To most of us, it is a concept from the history books or out of science fiction. However, as a society, we should consider how the eugenic mindset has influenced how we view disability and individuals with disabilities. At the very least, it would seem that the eugenic mentality has left us with a deep-seated fear of disability and the mistaken idea that no life is preferable to a life with a disability.
In 2017, when most every other group characteristic imaginable must be accepted and welcomed in our society, the fact that the life of a child with a cleft palate or Down Syndrome can still be terminated due to their condition is almost incomprehensible.
No one can judge the value of the life of another human being. No one can determine the potential of another. For who can say that one day a boy with brittle bone disease (or girl with Down Syndrome) will not bravely stand up in Parliament (or Congress) and speak up on behalf of those who can’t speak for themselves?
Nora Sullivan is Research Director at the Life Institute in Dublin, Ireland and an Associate Scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute in Washington, D.C. She holds a Master’s degree in Public Affairs from University College Dublin and has extensive experience in pro-life research and policy work.