Shouldn’t Abortion be Allowed for Serious or Fatal Birth Defects?

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


Abortion because of birth defects is at least understandable, especially if the child is not expected to live. 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 last year.  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 our sorrow as we visited them in the hospital room, he said words we will 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 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 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 a person by his or her disabilities is to see that person as a material good, not as a person with intrinsic worth.  Our Lord Jesus Christ embraced and healed the poor, the disabled, the deformed, the diseased.  If we are to follow His example, we must do the same. Abortion because of birth defects rejects the worth of the child as loved by God.

Society in general is finding it easier and easier to dispose of the disabled.  Thirty years 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 would abuse 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 husbands and wives naturally worry at least a little bit about the possibility of serious birth defects, but in reality, they are quite rare.

Six states surveyed 1.3 million women who had abortions, and found that only 0.59% chose abortion because of birth defects.3

Hymie Gordon, MD, was known as the “Father of Fetology.”  He 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, 99.82% 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

down syndrome baby

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 life miserable.  This widespread attitude means that about 90% of all diagnoses for preborn children with DS end in abortion.

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, they tend to be happier than those reading this article right now. Abortion because of birth defects often kills a child who would be very happy:

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.

Ninety-nine percent of people with Down syndrome were happy with their lives, making them the happiest identifiable group of human beings in existence.  Ninety-seven percent liked who they are, 96% liked how they look, and 86% easily made friends.

Ninety-six percent 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.  Eighty-eight percent 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.5

Abortion Because of Birth Defects: Rejecting Human Children

A child with a birth defect is still a child — no matter how serious his 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 abortion because of birth defects 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. Abortion because of birth defects rejects 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!



  1. Pope John Paul II, address to a the Ambassador of New Zealand to the Holy See, May 25, 2000,
  2. 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.
  3. For a summary of calculations and references supporting this figure, e-mail Brian Clowes at and request Excel spreadsheet F-03-01.XLS.
  4. For a summary of calculations and references supporting these numbers, e-mail Brian Clowes at and request Excel spreadsheet F-03-06.XLS.
  5. 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.
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About the Author:

Brian Clowes, PhD
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.


  1. Avatar
    mary peck May 18, 2019 at 1:58 PM - Reply

    30 years ago we still sent some of our disabled to institutions. It’s not just about the child’s quality of life. There are higher functioning people with Down’s Syndrome and autism who lead happy and productive lives: they have jobs, friends, etc. There are other developmentally disabled people in wheelchairs who require assistance 24/7, have seizures and are in pain. Do you really want your child to suffer? It’s easy to say “have the baby” when you are a financially well off male and it is not your family. By your standards, I’m in the less that 1 percent because I had a child with a disability at age 28. My husband was 31. We were in excellent health, I had prenatal care, took vitamins, didn’t smoke, drink, etc. We are good people so it’s not “karma” either. We don’t feel “special”; we feel cheated. I am still angry at God because I couldn’t understand why he took his anger out on my innocent child. Most people, especially so-called “Christians”, are not accepting of people with disabilities and never will be.

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      HLI Staff May 21, 2019 at 12:58 PM - Reply

      Thanks for being so open, Mary. God always does what is “best” but we often don’t understand His reasoning; it’s part of the mystery of Faith we discover only in the next life. If people are unkind or uncaring, I am sure you fight for your child! But don’t be angry at God, try to work through it with prayer and maybe spiritual counseling. The Church says ALL people are equal in the eyes of God, being made in His image and conceived with him joining in that moment with the parents to bring life into the world. And remember, if you are Catholic, you know that suffering is of IMMENSE value in the Church. We put that suffering up on the altar, so to speak, unite our suffering with Christ’s on the cross and his eternal sacrifice at each mass, and this earns immense graces because we offer it to Him. Offer each moment to God, day by day, and you will see and feel the rewards. We will offer our prayers for all of you, too.

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    Eric Stelter May 27, 2019 at 1:55 AM - Reply

    The figures reported here for the Rarity of Severe Birth Defects averaging about 0.5% are incorrect and misleading. The CDC reports that “Major structural or genetic birth defects affect approximately 3% of births in the United States” See “Update on Overall Prevalence of Major Birth Defects — Atlanta, Georgia, 1978–2005” at Please include these numbers and this reference on your webpage. You and I both have an obligation to God to spread the truth. The 3% birth defect rate reported by CDC is greater than 1 in 30 pregnancies, not even accounting for, regrettably and tragically, miscarriages and abortions. This 3% does not seem to be the “Hand of God” any more than the approximately 35% to 40% chance that we will get cancer in our lifetimes. And, if Zika virus spreads, the rate of birth defects may rise much more. These are difficult issues, to be sure. May God be with you.

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      HLI Staff June 26, 2019 at 9:13 AM - Reply

      Eric, thank you for your feedback, but we are confused. Nowhere in this article does it state birth defects in the United States average 0.5%. We do appreciate the reference, but are naturally hesitant to use this, as the numbers are 14 years or more old. A more recent document from 2014 seems to correlate, so we are handing to our researcher for an update. Thanks and God bless.

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    Ann Morgan July 16, 2019 at 2:32 AM - Reply

    Are you willing to emulate Christ, step up, and provide lifelong care for the disabled? Or do you just parade your holiness, gaze at cute pictures of fetuses, and demand that someone ELSE, the parents, the taxpayers, the innocent siblings, just not YOU, be nailed to that particular cross?

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      HLI Staff July 25, 2019 at 9:24 AM - Reply

      Hello Ann. Who do you think started the first hospitals, orphanages, etc? The Catholic Church is the LARGEST non-profit in the world providing help in these cases, with 18,000 clinics, 16,000 for elderly/special needs, 5500 hospitals and the majority in developing countries. There is absolutely no reason to abort a child. Should you or the party in question not wish to raise a disabled child, bring it to us. That child will be given the care they need. That is, as long as cities like Philadelphia stop taking us to court to shut down our foster care when there is no one else to provide it. One does not kill someone who is disabled because they do not want to be bothered. That is for God, not you or I, to decide.

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    Lacey Sheridan August 6, 2019 at 5:08 PM - Reply

    This is a personal decision, of course, and I realize that abortion is unacceptable in your religion. But if I live to be 100, I will never understand carrying to term a child that will only live for hours. To put yourself through that nightmare! Your God demands too much.

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      HLI Staff August 20, 2019 at 9:18 AM - Reply

      Lacey, thank you for your response, which is often felt by mothers who fear the pain of watching their baby suffer or die. But if you are carrying a child, can you imagine that child experiencing terrible pain and death by abortion at the hands of his mother, when he could have died peacefully in her arms? For instance, amniocentesis is done 15-20 weeks into the pregnancy. A baby by 20 weeks is aborted by having the brain matter “evacuated” and the limbs pulled out one by one. People sometimes forget about the baby’s suffering, too. God bless.

      • Avatar
        Sarah October 15, 2019 at 4:43 AM - Reply

        Great article!

        I am starting to see that life is the better option.

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