Irish abortion vote: ‘propagandistic’ use of children with Down’s syndrome condemned

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A doctor, author and father of a son with Down’s syndrome has hit out at Ireland’s anti-abortion lobby for using children with the condition during campaigning for Friday’s referendum.

With only days left before the Irish electorate votes on whether to introduce limited abortion into the state’s hospitals, Dr Chris Kaposy has condemned the “propagandistic use” of children like his son by anti-abortion campaigners.

Kaposy – a bioethicist who has written a book around the ethics of prenatal testing “from a pro-choice, disability-positive perspective” – has accused the opponents of Irish abortion reform of dragging “a vulnerable group into a contentious political debate”.

On Friday, Irish voters will decide whether to repeal the 8th amendment to the country’s constitution, which gives equal right to life to both the foetus and mother from the moment of conception.

The electorate will also be asked, if the 8th is abolished, to enable the Irish parliament to draw up legislation that would legalise abortion in hospitals for pregnancies up to 12 weeks.

Anti-abortion campaigners have claimed in poster ads that repealing the 8th amendment would lead to widespread aborting of foetuses diagnosed with Down’s syndrome.

They have used pictures of children with Down’s syndrome on billboards with the message: “In Britain, 90% of babies with Down’s syndrome are aborted.”

Kaposy’s criticisms echo those of the Irish prime minister, Leo Varadkar, who has described the use of images of children with Down’s syndrome in the referendum campaign as wrong.

Referring to his nine-year-old son, Aaron, Kaposy said: “As the father of a child with Down’s syndrome, I am opposed to the propagandistic use of people like my son in attempts to limit reproductive rights, as has happened in the Irish debate, as well as in the legislative actions taken in various American states to outlaw the abortion of foetuses with Down’s syndrome.”

The Irish abortion referendum

Irish abortion vote: ‘propagandistic’ use of children with Down’s syndrome condemned

The Irish abortion referendum

Ireland is to vote on abortion law reform next month. In a referendum on 25 May, voters will decide if they want to repeal an article in the republic’s constitution known as the eighth amendment.

The amendment, or article 40.3.3 of the constitution, gives unborn foetuses and pregnant mothers an equal right to life – in effect a ban on abortion. Currently, terminations are allowed only when the life of the mother is at risk, with a penalty of up to 14 years in prison for breaking the law.

The government in Dublin has promised to introduce legislation allowing for abortions during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy if the vote goes in favour of repeal.

Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/X03756
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Irish anti-abortion campaign groups have claimed that a Down’s syndrome diagnosis could be used to access a termination under liberalised abortion laws. Kaposy, however, said the proposed reforms would not allow a Down’s syndrome diagnosis to be a reason for an abortion.

“It is difficult to predict,” he said. “In one study from the US, the [average] gestational age at abortion [in cases of Down’s syndrome] was 13 weeks, though there is a trend toward earlier abortion with improved screening tests. Further, Down’s syndrome is not a condition that typically threatens the life of the pregnant woman, nor does it cause serious health risks in pregnancy, not is it a condition that is typically fatal in utero or soon after birth.”

Kaposy, who lectures in bioethics at Memorial University in Canada, said he believed more children with Down’s syndrome should be brought into families like his own.

“People with Down’s syndrome tend to lead flourishing lives. Their families typically thrive. Perhaps more parents would choose children with this condition if they knew these facts. Prospective parents should be empowered to make choices in favour of parenting children with disabilities like Down’s syndrome, rather than being prohibited from choosing against disabilities.”

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