Leading atheist Richard Dawkins has been widely criticised for claiming that it is “immoral” not to abort Down’s syndrome babies, during a debate on Twitter.
In response to a tweet which asked whether close to 1,000 Down’s syndrome abortions in England and Wales in 2012 is “civilised”, Professor Dawkins said it is “very civilised”, because these are “foetuses, diagnosed before they have human feelings”.
He sparked the debate by linking to a story about Ireland’s abortion laws, and saying, “Ireland is a civilised country except in this 1 area”.
One Twitter user said she would be faced with “a real ethical dilemma” if she found out her unborn baby had Down’s syndrome.
@InYourFaceNYer Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.
— Richard Dawkins (@RichardDawkins) August 20, 2014
Prof Dawkins, who has more than a million followers, tweeted in reply: “Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice”.
Parents with children who have Down’s syndrome have refuted Dawkins’ claims.
One mother tweeted: “I would fight till my last breath for the life of my son. No dilemma.”
And another mother, Caroline White, told the BBC that Prof Dawkins’ comments were offensive.
Speaking about her son, she said: “I cannot imagine my life without Seb”.
“He breathes so much energy into our typical family. But I only know that now, now that I have him, now that I know him. I could never have known this when I was pregnant, having never met anybody with Down’s and my mind full of outdated stereotypes”, she added.
The Down’s Syndrome Association said in a statement: “People with Down’s syndrome can and do live full and rewarding lives, they also make a valuable contribution to our society.”
It also said the Association doesn’t think the condition should “in itself” be a reason to have an abortion, and said families must “make their own choice”.
Prof Dawkins also tweeted that: “Down Syndrome is 1 of the commonest & most moral reasons” to exercise the “right” to abortion.
On his website, he maintained that aborting a Down’s syndrome baby is the moral course of action, and “simply follows logically” from his pro-abortion stance.
Prof Dawkins also said he had “sympathy” for those who were offended by his comments because they know and love a person with the condition, but said it is an “emotional” not a “logical” point.
The atheist courted controversy last week by suggesting that suicide bombers are given a license to carry out atrocities because moderate religious believers are “so nice”.
He claimed that because churchgoers and other religious adherents are pleasant, people are taught to think that having a faith is acceptable.
Dawkins said such a mindset then gives terrorists who say “‘it’s my faith and you can’t question that'” a license to act.