Pa. legislation would protect the lives of those deemed undesirable

A commission of Pennsylvania lawmakers and state officials is working in Harrisburg to come up with a plan to pay down the state's pension debt. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

A commission of Pennsylvania lawmakers and state officials is working in Harrisburg to come up with a plan to pay down the state's pension debt. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

Not much shocks me anymore. However, a recent conversation with a woman I’d just met did leave me nearly speechless.

As we chitchatted about a local nonprofit organization that offers affordable spay or neutering procedures for dogs and cats, she opined, “We ought to spay some people.”

Indeed, I heard her correctly. This stranger looked me in the eye and advocated wiping out populations of “some people,” a vile practice otherwise known as eugenics.

“That would be rather cruel,” I lamely replied after untying my tongue.

This uncomfortable exchange came to mind not long afterward as I read news about proposed Pennsylvania legislation that addresses selective abortions of “some people” who carry an extra chromosome. Bills proposed by the state House and Senate would ban abortions of developing babies whom prenatal testing determines will be born with Down syndrome.

Since the 1980s, the state of Pennsylvania has protected the right of some people — particularly female people — to be born. Sex-selection abortions are prohibited in Pennsylvania unless a physician determines that the abortion is necessary for other reasons. This protective legislation was passed in response to exploitation of ultrasound technology in China and other Asian countries. It’s no secret that, in some places, baby girls are aborted disproportionately due to government policies favoring boys or for economic and cultural reasons.

Here in the United States, we’re choosing an equally creepy method of eugenics by reducing populations of both female and male babies prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome.  

The Jerome Lejeune Foundation USA reported that a study published in the American Journal of Medical Genetics in 2015, called “Estimates of the live births, natural losses, and elective terminations with Down syndrome in the United States,” determined that “the population of individuals living with Down syndrome is 30 percent lower than it would be if there was no prenatal diagnosis that results in abortion.”  Moreover, “this study validates an earlier 2012 study [“Prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome: a systematic review of termination rates (1995–2011)”] that claimed the abortion rate in the U.S. following prenatal diagnosis is around 67 percent.” 

If both the Pennsylvania House and Senate vote to pass the bill banning Down syndrome abortions, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf says that he will veto it. Another vote could be taken that requires a two-thirds vote of both the Senate and the House to override Wolf’s veto. Should that vote prevail, the bill protecting unborn Down syndrome babies will become law.

The practice of eugenics, or selective breeding, proposes improvement of the human species by permitting reproduction of only people with genetic characteristics deemed desirable. Today, people with Down syndrome —  that young woman who bags groceries at your local supermarket or the young man sitting nearby in church — are increasingly deemed undesirable.

Whenever I consider such eugenically charged issues, the words of the late German pastor Martin Niemöller come to mind. Niemöller was imprisoned at the Dachau concentration camp from 1941 through 1945. During his lectures after World War II, he said:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.

More than a decade ago, the leader of the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians made remarks to me about a hypothetical human rights violation that I never considered. “Abortion tries to get rid of real human beings who are threatening or undesirable,” PLAGAL President Cecilia Brown said. “Children are routinely aborted now because of gender or disability. It is not inconceivable to see people aborting because of a possible gay gene.”

Have our American hearts become so hardened that we cannot see how abortion rights are leading us to a wider plank and quickening death walks into deeper and darker seas?

Somebody, please, speak out.

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