Chipping Away at Exceptions: Forced Birth for Fetal Anomalies

They say it's about compassion, eugenics, diversity. But in reality, isn't it just about chipping away at abortion rights any way that they can?


On the surface, the introduction of state and federal law seeking to ban abortion in the case of alleged race or gender preferences appeared to be a legislative solution to a non-existent problem. There are not data to indicate sex selection is a problem in the United States; race-selection even less so. These laws are little more than a way to open up a door for providers to be accused of potential lawbreaking if “too many” women of color seek out their services.

These showboat bills exist for one purpose—to continue the quest to paint abortion as a method of eugenics. Eliminating access to safe and legal abortion is then portrayed not as an assault on reproductive rights, but as a civil rights issue.

That was step one. Now, we are witnessing stage two: seek to ban abortion for the sake of terminating a pregnancy with fetal anomalies. From severe birth defects to genetic issues such as trisomy or Down Syndrome, anti-choice activists want to force women to give birth even in cases of severe physical or genetic anomalies, thereby removing any control from her or her family, and handing these most personal decisions over to the government.

For the sake of the child, of course.

Indiana, North Dakota, and now Missouri are all putting forth new draft model legislation from Americans United for Life that focuses on “ending discrimination based on genetic abnormalities,” as AUL President and CEO Dr. Charmaine Yoest calls it. Dr. Yoest compares being allowed to abort because of fetal anomalies analogous to discriminating against people for housing or education due to disabilities. “Targeting young children for destruction because they have disabilities is inhumane. Now is the time to address the increasing discrimination based on sex and genetic abnormalities,” Dr. Yoest stated via press release for model legislation that rolls anomalies and being female into one tidy little abortion ban.

That one aspect of the ban is to end the option of abortion for women who discover that their fetus has been diagnosed with Downs is clear, and the right to life movement has been devoted as of late in pushing a public relations campaign that seeks to show children with that disability as a joy to their families rather than any sort of burden. It’s a worthwhile effort. After all, many of the pregnancies that have progressed far enough to make it to anomaly testing are wanted pregnancies, and for a family who receives such a diagnosis there is no reason why they shouldn’t learn about those who have been through the same situation and have had positive experiences to help them make their own decisions.

But passing a ban is a means of taking all decisions from a family, and not just in the case of a diagnosis of Downs. It also rips them out of the hands of those who have learned that their babies are unlikely to survive the birthing process, or those who will die in utero, who develop without part of their brains or with organs that will never fully form. In all of those cases a women would be forced to carry to term, regardless of the effects on her physically, or the economic and emotional toll it would take on the family.

To anti-choice supporters, forcing women to give birth to non-viable babies is about compassion, although that isn’t compassion for the mother than they are interested in. Operation Rescue, which is seeking to get the license of Dr. Shelley Sella, one of the few third trimester abortion providers in the country, revoked, states clearly that their desire is to ensure that later term abortions can’t be provided at all, even if it involves a severely compromised fetus.

“Right now, there really are no (national) third-trimester abortion standards and what it could do is essentially stop third-trimester abortions, which actually would be a good thing, even in the case of fetal anomalies,” Operation Rescue research director Cheryl Sullenger told the Albuquerque News Journal when discussing their complaint against Dr. Sella. “For heaven’s sakes, let the baby take a breath, have a hug from Mom before he goes. It’s just not a humane thing.”

When it comes to what is or is not humane, one would think that the impact of forcing a woman to continue to carry a child with no hope of life that may not even survive until birth would be considered as well, which is the main role of doctors and patients when it comes to such abortions.

Not legislators.

So why the compassion for “the baby” that may not ever take a breath over the woman forced against her will to carry to term? Because, like every other bill regardless of the spin being put on it (women’s safety, gender discrimination, not blaming the fetus if it was conceived in rape) this about nothing more than chipping away at the right to an abortion via any means possible. And, like the new bills that will continue to remove allowances for cases of rape, a woman’s physical or mental health, and now fetal anomalies, the anti-choice movement is coming directly for the “exceptions” so if they ever do manage to outlaw abortion outright, the exceptions loopholes will be completely closed off, too.