Abortion and the Problem of the “Parental Project”

As tens of thousands of people gather again in Washington today for the annual March for Life, it’s worth noting not only pro-life gains in multiple states but also growing medical evidence for opposition to abortion.

For example, buried in the press just recently over the New Year’s weekend was a New York Times story that failed to receive the serious attention it deserved: “When They Warn of Rare Disorders, These Prenatal Tests are Usually Wrong.”

The gist of the report was that various blood tests used early in pregnancy to detect rare genetically-based illnesses are about 85 percent wrong.  The report was quick, however, to imply that, as regards to the tests’ original targets – people with Down syndrome – they “worked very well.”  Translated into concrete terms, this means that they eliminated the “disease” by eliminating those who had Down syndrome.

The tests the Times examined are supposed to identify very rare and uncommon genetic disorders.  That means the diseases themselves are infrequent while the chances of misdiagnosis – claiming that a healthy unborn child bears a genetic deformity – are more than four in five.

What are we to make of this? If prenatal tests are 85 percent wrong, is their primary value today defending eugenic “choice”?

First, eugenic abortion is alive and well.  Attitudes that would constitute illegal discrimination in the case of most persons already born are socially approved of thanks to the hocus-pocus alchemy of Roe v. Wade, which transforms an unborn child into a nonperson, just because Justice Harry Blackmun said so.  We are still somewhat removed from “curing” disability among the born by killing them, although, as former Virginia Governor Ralph Northam let slip three years ago, being born no longer constitutes protection against discriminatory and lethal medical neglect of a handicapped neonate.

I’m old enough to remember the uproar generated in the 1970s when James Watson, one of the discoverers of how DNA works, suggested we not declare a baby alive until three days after birth in order to be able to eliminate anomalies not identified before birth.  What was considered outrageous back then found its way later into a 2013 article in the Journal of Medical Ethics as “after-birth abortion,” or the equivalent of a “no-questions-asked” return policy.

Eugenic abortion, however, does not only strike at unborn babies with possible handicaps. It is also widely used in sex-selection abortions, especially in certain communities where sons are culturally prized or where couples want “designer babies.”

When it is discussed openly, with all its ugly discriminatory intent, eugenic abortion is publicly alienating. That’s why abortionists – who constantly resist any discussion about the grounds for abortion – will shift the question to “who decides,” especially pre-viability.  That was the argument used by the federal District Court to enjoin Indiana’s restriction on eugenic abortion.

When Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a searing opinion exposing abortion’s eugenic roots, there was an immediate uproar about his “getting the facts wrong.” He didn’t. What his critics maintain is the idea that eugenics is wrong only when practiced by the state.  When practiced by individuals, it’s a “right.”

You have to work hard, however, not to recognize the shell game being played here.  As with abortion-on-demand, which requires no grounds to justify it (a position orthodox abortionists hold), proponents will invoke the grounds of the hardest cases to push their position. The most common abortions obtained for socio-economic purposes piggyback on the uncommon instances of maternal life-threatening pregnancies.

Abortionists want to have their cake and eat it, too.  While they will fight restrictions on eugenic abortion as an infringement on the “right to choose,” knowing that defending abortion on eugenic grounds would alienate many supporters, they are also willing to flip the discussion: to use the prospect of raising a handicapped child as a bogeyman to defend the “threatened” right to abortion.

It’s the same strategy used by advocates of legalized abortion in the late 1960s and early 1970s: claiming fictitious high numbers about “back-alley abortions” in order to drum up support for legal abortion.  If the Times is to be believed, there aren’t hoards of the feebleminded “imbeciles” Oliver Wendell Holmes foresaw threatening America. (In a 1927 Court decision, Buck v. Bell, Holmes, let’s remember, uttered the decidedly “unwoke” opinion that “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”)

The racist eugenics of Buck v. Bell were also justified by America’s elites under “the principle of compulsory vaccination.”

In all of this, we face the problem of the “parental project.”  “Parental project” is a term coined by the just-resigned Archbishop of Paris, Michel Aupetit, a physician and bioethicist.  A child is a person, and the only proper relationship to a person – as Karol Wojtyła noted – is love.

Because love is a gift, recognizing the child as a gift creates a wholly different posture from regarding the child as a project, custom-made to specs dictated either by negative eugenics (no Down syndrome, no heart murmurs, no decreased IQ, no obesity in the genes) or positive eugenics (“right” sex, blue eyes, tall, athletic).

Projects are measured according to criteria outside the project: if a child is a project, he might not “measure up,” which for many “ethicists” today would justify death for the child in the womb or even after birth.

So as we remember Roe and the horrors to which it has given rise, we should ask ourselves once again: Is this the kind of society we want for ourselves and our children?  Because we’re continuing to design it, even if some of the tools in its construction are very faulty – 85 percent wrong.


*Image: The Adoration of the Christ Child by a follower of Jan Joest of Kalkar, c. 1515 [The MET, New York]. The two insets shown (upper middle and to Our Lady’s left in the painting) are thought by some to depict Down syndrome people.

You may also enjoy:

Francis X. Maier’s Eat the Disabled? Follow the Science

Hadley Arkes’ Sex-Selective Abortions and the Twisting of Souls

John Grondelski (Ph.D., Fordham) is a former associate dean of the School of Theology, Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey. All views herein are exclusively his.