Richard Dawkins: It would be “immoral” not to abort a fetus with Down syndrome

The atheist thinker misconstrues the meaning of reproductive choice

Topics: Richard Dawkins, Abortion, Pro-choice, Reproductive choice, Reproductive Rights, reproductive health, down syndrome, fetal anomalies, fetal screening, morality, twitter wars, , ,

Richard Dawkins: It would be "immoral" not to abort a fetus with Down syndromeRichard Dawkins (Credit: Comedy Central)

Prominent evolutionary theorist Richard Dawkins seems to be confused about choices. The noted atheist drew ire on Wednesday after he announced that it would be “immoral” for a pregnant woman not to abort a fetus if she discovered that it had Down syndrome — ignoring the fact that when women have the right to choose an abortion, they also have the right not to choose an abortion.

During a discussion with followers over the recent case of a suicidal woman in Ireland who was denied an abortion and forced to undergo a C-section at 25 weeks, Dawkins noted that “screening [for fetal abnormalities] offers a humane moral choice.” But instead of leaving it at that, Dawkins also suggested that only one choice a woman could make in response to a Down syndrome diagnosis would be morally just:

Dawkins went on to say that he “OBVIOUSLY wouldn’t TELL a woman what to do” (emphasis original), because women’s reproductive decisions should be up to women:

Dawkins is right about one thing: Women do have a right to early abortion and the choice is theirs. But there is no such thing as a “most moral reason” to have an abortion. The reasons that women choose to have abortions are varied and personal, as are the reasons women choose to carry pregnancies to term. Choice is responsive to individual needs, beliefs and circumstances. No woman should be attacked for the reproductive rights she chooses to exercise — whether it’s the right to have an abortion, or the right not to.



Dawkins appears to have recognized the distinction. On Thursday, he issued an “apology” on his website, in which he shared what he would have said about Down syndrome and abortion if that darn Twitter didn’t limit him to 140 characters:

Obviously the choice would be yours. For what it’s worth, my own choice would be to abort the Down fetus and, assuming you want a baby at all, try again. Given a free choice of having an early abortion or deliberately bringing a Down child into the world, I think the moral and sensible choice would be to abort. And, indeed, that is what the great majority of women, in America and especially in Europe, actually do.  I personally would go further and say that, if your morality is based, as mine is, on a desire to increase the sum of happiness and reduce suffering, the decision to deliberately give birth to a Down baby, when you have the choice to abort it early in the pregnancy, might actually be immoral from the point of view of the child’s own welfare. I agree that that personal opinion is contentious and needs to be argued further, possibly to be withdrawn. … Having said that, the choice would be entirely yours and I would never dream of trying to impose my views on you or anyone else.

Right again. Too bad Dawkins didn’t quite leave it at that. Read the rest of the letter on his blog.

(h/t Raw Story)

Jenny Kutner

Jenny Kutner is an assistant editor at Salon, focusing on sex, gender and feminism. Follow @jennykutner or email jkutner@salon.com.

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