Shouldn’t Abortion be Allowed for Serious or Fatal Birth Defects?
“A society will be judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members.”
~Pope Saint John Paul II1
Of the many reasons that women give for having abortions, the justification of birth defects is the most understandable, especially if the child is not expected to live. Women considering abortion for fatal or serious birth defects want to spare their unborn children the suffering that results from such problems.
Try to imagine for just for a moment the heartbreak of a young couple discovering that their unborn child faces a serious or fatal birth defect, such as Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS). After the initial shock, they quickly realize that many tough obstacles lay ahead, problems that other parents just don’t have to face.
One young husband and wife we know faced this tragedy a few years ago. In addition to hearing that their preborn baby had HLHS, the mother was immediately put on full bed rest due to placenta previa. Her husband worked himself to near-exhaustion cooking all of their meals, cleaning the house, caring for their very active toddler, commuting, and working a full-time job. They did everything they could to make sure their baby would be born large enough so that she could survive the surgeries needed to heal her “tiny broken heart.”
After four months of this grueling pilgrimage, the young wife — our daughter-in-law, Gina — gave birth to a beautiful daughter. Our son Paul baptized her Phoebe Leilani, “Flower of Heaven.” Phoebe, at just over two pounds, was too small for heart surgery. So Paul and Gina and their son Jonah loved her with all their hearts during her short time on this earth. When Paul saw the sorrow of my wife Kathy and I as we visited them in the hospital room, he said words we can never forget: “You guys know — It’s always a great day when a baby is born.”
After only two hours of life, Phoebe passed from the loving arms of her parents into the loving arms of God. Our pastor Father Jerome Fasano of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church here in Front Royal said a wonderful funeral Mass for her and was present with many others from our parish as she was laid to rest on the Furtado family farm.
Our son and his wife gave all of us a wonderful example of the only human, the only humane, the only holy course of action to take when caring for a very sick preborn baby. For a child with the most severe of disabilities, we must ask ourselves which is the most loving way to deal with the situation: To allow the child to die in the loving arms of his parents or in agony at the hands of the abortionist’s merciless, razor-sharp surgical instruments?
Why Does Society Reject the “Imperfect”?
While our world celebrates beauty and perfection, many of us are losing our ability to see the loveliness in the face of a disabled child who may not meet our standards of beauty. To kill someone because he or she is less than perfect is to reject the battered and marred face of Christ as well. Truly, He was most beautiful when He suffered for us, just as parents are most beautiful when they suffer and sacrifice for the sake of their disabled child.
To judge someone by his or her disabilities is to see that person as a simple material good, not as a human being with intrinsic worth. Our Lord Jesus Christ and His saints embraced and healed the poor, the disabled, the deformed, the diseased. If we are to follow His example, we must do the same. To have an abortion because of birth defects is to reject the worth of the child as loved by God.
Society in general is finding it easier and easier to dispose of the disabled. A few decades ago, we cared for those weaker than ourselves. Now, genetic testing is leading to more and more eugenic abortion for smaller and less important disabilities, such as deafness or cleft palate. In fact, more than a million babies worldwide are aborted each year because of the dreaded “disability” of being female!
No matter how strictly lawmakers draw up exceptions, the abortionists will always construct elaborate and dishonest rationales to bypass them. Phill Kline, former attorney general of Kansas, explained how third-trimester abortionist George Tiller abused the law:
We had at one point an exception that allowed late-term abortions on viable children if there was a severe fetal anomaly. Dr. Tiller found a “severe fetal anomaly’ in instances involving cleft palate, Down syndrome, and healthy twins….The logic of it is clear: Twins are an anomaly, are they not? And they can have a severe economic impact on the family. That’s what happens to the law when you don’t believe in truth.2
Rarity of Severe Birth Defects
Most expectant wives and their husbands naturally worry at least a little bit about the possibility of serious birth defects, but in reality, they are quite rare.
Six states have surveyed 2.44 million women over the time period 1996-2020 who had abortions and found that only 0.69% chose abortion because of birth defects.3 And this number is probably overestimated since we have heard many stories about women who were frightened by stories from their doctors about how badly their unborn babies were handicapped — only to find that their newborns were perfectly healthy.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has determined that 16-year-old girls giving birth have a 1 in 570 chance of having a baby with a serious or fatal birth defect. In other words, 99.83% of their babies are born perfectly healthy. As the mother’s age increases, the incidence of serious or fatal birth defects rises, but still remains small. At the age of 35, pregnant mothers can expect a 99.48% probability of having a perfectly healthy baby, and at 40, the probability is 98.48%.4
Children with Birth Defects Can Be Happy
One of the greatest fears that older expectant parents have is the possibility of Down syndrome. They think that having such a child will make their lives miserable. This widespread attitude means that about 90% of all diagnoses for preborn children with DS end in abortion. And some nations actually boast that they have completely eliminated Down syndrome — by killing all of the people who have it!5
Parents who abort their Down syndrome child are thinking only of themselves. After all, our greatest hope should be that our children are happy, and as anyone who has lived with or worked with children with Down syndrome knows, those with Down’s tend to be much happier than those reading this article right now. Abortion because of birth defects (eugenic abortion) kills a child who has an overwhelmingly probable chance of being very happy:6
- A major 2011 study of the attitudes of people with Down syndrome and their families, published in the American Journal of Medical Genetics, revealed that 99% of parents loved their DS son or daughter, 97% were proud of them, and 79% felt their outlook on life was more positive because of them. Only 5% were embarrassed by them and a mere 4% regretted having them.
- Another study found that 99% of people with Down syndrome were happy with their lives, making them the happiest identifiable group of human beings in existence. 97% liked who they are, 96% liked how they look, and 86% easily made friends.
- 96% of their brothers and sisters said they loved their sibling with DS, and 94% said that they were proud of their brother or sister with Down syndrome. 88% felt they were better people because of their sibling with DS. Less than 10% felt embarrassed, and less than 5% expressed a desire to “trade their sibling in” for a “normal” brother or sister.
Interestingly, the pool of articles extolling the happy natures of people with Down syndrome seems to have dried up completely since about 2011. One possible theory is that the corrupt media is obviously trying to promote taxpayer-funded abortion on demand through all nine months of pregnancy for any reason at all, and its members do not want to convey the impression that any abortion might be inappropriate. After all, nobody has provided any evidence that shows that Down syndrome people are unhappy, yet the narrative has completely changed. This is a sure sign of a change in priorities, not a change in evidence.
Abortion for Birth Defects: Rejecting Human Children
A child with a birth defect is still a child — no matter how serious his or her disability. We poor human beings, with our limited intelligence and vision, cannot even begin to perceive the intricacies of God’s plans for our own lives, let alone His intentions for a child who has not even been born yet.
God tells us in Jeremiah 1:5, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you came to birth I consecrated you.”
A disability — even a serious one — does not make a person any less human. This means that committing abortion because of birth defects — which is nothing more than an echo of the Nazi eugenics program — can never be justified.
Shall We Accept Disabled Children?
Disabled children present us with a difficult problem. Society’s answer to this problem will decide whether we truly reflect the glory of God in our families and in our society. If we welcome the child who is “less than perfect” in either his appearance or his abilities, then we are more truly a human — and Godly — people. To have an abortion because of birth defects is to reject the child in our midst, God’s gift to us — therefore rejecting God Himself.
Blessed Margaret of Castello, patroness of the disabled, pray for us!
 Pope John Paul II, address to the Ambassador of New Zealand to the Holy See, May 25, 2000.
 Phill Kline, former Attorney General of Kansas, quoted in Kathleen Gilbert. “Late-Term Healthy Twins Counted as ‘Severe Fetal Anomaly’ for Abortionist Tiller: Former Prosecutor.” LifeSite Daily News, May 9, 2012.
 Tabulation of reports on “Induced Termination of Pregnancy” from Florida (1998-2020), Louisiana (1996-2018), Minnesota (1999-2019), Nebraska (2001-2019), South Dakota (1999-2019), and Utah (1996-2018).
 American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Patient Education Pamphlet entitled “Pregnancy and Genetic Disorders.”
 Kel Falkenstein. “This Nation Brags How It has Aborted 100% of the Babies with Down Syndrome.” LifeNews.com, February 28, 2017.
 G. Skotko, S.P Levine and R. Goldstein. “Having a Son or Daughter with Down Syndrome: Perspectives from Mothers and Fathers.” American Journal of Medical Genetics, 2011 [Part A], pages 2,335-2,347; B.G. Skotko, S.P Levine and R. Goldstein. “Self-Perceptions from People with Down Syndrome.” American Journal of Medical Genetics, 2011 [Part A], pages 2,360-2,369; B.G. Skotko, S.P Levine and R. Goldstein. “Having a Brother or Sister with Down Syndrome: Perspectives from Siblings.” American Journal of Medical Genetics, 2011 [Part A], pages 2,348-2,359.
Did you find this useful?
Dr. Brian Clowes has been HLI’s director of research since 1995 and is one of the most accomplished and respected intellectuals in the international pro-life movement. Best known as author of the most exhaustive pro-life informational resource volume The Facts of Life, and for his Pro-Life Basic Training Course, Brian is the author of nine books and over 500 scholarly and popular articles, and has traveled to 70 countries on six continents as a pro-life speaker, educator and trainer.