More "common ground" on abortion?

Strange bedfellows agree: Families need more support after prenatal disability diagnosis.

By Lynn Harris
Published March 12, 2008 5:50PM (EDT)

Ted Kennedy and who? In case you missed this the first time around, the senator from Massachusetts, distinguished archfoe of super-cons, has cosponsored a bill with none other than Sen. Sam "Homosexual acts are immoral" Brownback. What, a $30 million proposal to proclaim that grilled cheese is delicious? What else could those two possibly have in common?

Their common ground, as it turns out, is one that more and more lawmakers -- to mixed reviews -- appear to be exploring: an interest in reducing the number of abortions. The bill is the Prenatally and Postnatally Diagnosed Conditions Awareness Act, designed to reduce the number of abortions prompted by diagnoses of genetic disorders. As the Wichita Eagle reports, the $50 million bill has made its way out of committee and toward the full Senate. (A similar measure has been introduced in the House.) The proposal would create a national registry of families willing to adopt children with prenatally (or postnatally) diagnosed conditions such as Down syndrome. Families would also be referred to support services. (An earlier version of the bill reportedly carried a whopping fine for doctors who did not make this type of referral.)

"We're just saying, instead of killing the children, let them live," Brownback said, with characteristic nuance.

Brownback, as you may be aware, wants to outlaw and abolish abortion, period. So does that mean that under this measure, families would be "referred to support services" the way fake clinics offer "abortion help?" Well, let's put it this way: NARAL Pro-Choice America is not opposing the bill. "Unlike other legislation Sen. Brownback sponsors, this measure does not include anti-choice rhetoric or policy provisions that would harm women's health," NARAL president Nancy Keenan told the Eagle. "It's our view that the bill offers information and services to expectant women and does not undermine their right to choose."

Kennedy, for his part -- while committed to reducing abortion, his office says -- may have his dog more specifically in the give-kids-with-disabilities-a-chance hunt. His late sister Rosemary was said to have been born mentally disabled; his sister Eunice founded the Special Olympics.

Both politicians deserve credit, I suppose, for not letting partisan cooties come between them; I myself am not sure how long I could stand to look Brownback in the eye. Here's another way the senator from Kansas could raise his credibility just a hair: Quit saying maudlin, patronizing -- and incorrect -- things like "And if you see a Down syndrome child or person in this country today, I hope you give them a hug, because 90 percent are killed in the womb." What doctors say is that 80 to 90 percent of pregnancies diagnosed with serious genetic disorders are terminated. (Yes, the number is still high, but it does not mean by any stretch that 90 percent of all Down pregnancies end in abortion. Many women choose not to have -- or have no access to -- prenatal testing; likewise, early screenings, as opposed to diagnostics, are neither 100 percent accurate nor definitive.) Brownback's press people get this right; so should he. We like the bill better without the disingenuous histrionics.

Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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