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‘Cheering eugenics’: Article on nation aborting children with Down Syndrome sparks backlash

A liberal magazine has prompted controversy for allegedly championing abortion following prenatal testing as a way to phase out a genetic condition that poses developmental challenges, using Denmark as an exemplar. “Few people speak publicly about wanting to ‘eliminate’ Down syndrome. Yet individual choices are adding up to something very close to that,” author Sarah Zhang wrote in The Atlantic.

In the tweet embedded below, Newsbusters managing editor Curtis Houck accused the publication of cheerleading for eugenics and murder, and everyone on the editorial staff should hang their head in shame. The response on social media to the feature called “The Last Children of Down Syndrome,” that contains a secondary headline that reads “Prenatal testing is changing who gets born and who doesn’t. This is just the beginning,” was, however, somewhat mixed.

In the lengthy article that readers can review and form their own conclusions, Zhang wrote, in part:

“[I]n 2004, Denmark became one of the first countries in the world to offer prenatal Down syndrome screening to every pregnant woman, regardless of age or other risk factors. Nearly all expecting mothers choose to take the test; of those who get a Down syndrome diagnosis, more than 95 percent choose to abort. Denmark is not on its surface particularly hostile to disability. People with Down syndrome are entitled to health care, education, even money for the special shoes that fit their wider, more flexible feet…

“Yet a gulf seems to separate the publicly expressed attitudes and private decisions. Since universal screening was introduced, the number of children born with Down syndrome has fallen sharply. In 2019, only 18 were born in the entire country. (About 6,000 children with Down syndrome are born in the U.S. each year.)”

Houck took to Twitter to condemn the article and also to call attention to a similar report from CBS News circa 2017 about how most women in Iceland terminate their pregnancy after receiving a positive Down syndrome test result.

“Eugenics in Denmark never became as systematic and violent as it did in Germany, but the policies came out of similar underlying goals: improving the health of a nation by preventing the birth of those deemed to be burdens on society,” The Atlantic science writer also explained.

The article itself as well as Houck’s tweet prompted a diverse and perhaps nuanced reaction on Twitter. Not everyone found it offensive. Here is a sample of those who expressed an opinion about this sensitive issue:

Parenthetically, The Atlantic is the same outlet that in September published unsubstantiated anonymous allegations, otherwise known as a politicized hit piece, that President Trump disparaged U.S. soldiers.

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