Richard Dawkins’ Down Syndrome Abortion Tweets: “Immoral” “Try Again”

Twitter erupted into controversy yesterday over evolutionary biologist and famed atheist author Richard Dawkins’ Down Syndrome abortion tweets. As so frequently happens, Dawkins posted from a rather clinical point of view, and as a result, riled emotions.

It all started when another Twitter user tweeted that she didn’t know what she’d do if she was pregnant with a Down Syndrome diagnosed fetus, calling the hypothetical an ethical dilemma.

Richard Dawkins offered advice.

This grew quickly into controversy, with users telling Dawkins that he had no business telling another person they should abort, and that he couldn’t decide who should and shouldn’t live, and that he was disparaging those with Down Syndrome and suggesting they shouldn’t live. Dawkins explained his position, and pointed out the wide chasm between it and what he was accused of saying:

Dawkins further appealed to statistical norms to show that he wasn’t saying anything extreme:

The person to whom the original response was directed even stepped in to clarify:

As Dawkins continued to explain, people stayed angry:

Responses:

This morning, on Richard Dawkins’ own website, he posted a long-form apology for poorly chosen words, carefully apologizing only for certain aspects of the tweets.

He clarified that he offers no apology to those who are opposed to abortion entirely, and that he did not say that people with Down Syndrome do not deserve to live, nor that women should be forced or pressured to abort, nor that they should do so simply because most do.

For the brevity of the initial tweet, though, and confusion arising from it Dawkins did apologize:

Those who thought I was bossily telling a woman what to do rather than let her choose. Of course this was absolutely not my intention and I apologise if brevity made it look that way.

The post also includes a long-form version of the tweet, which Dawkins explains is what he would’ve said given more than 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. In any case, you would probably be condemning yourself as a mother (or yourselves as a couple) to a lifetime of caring for an adult with the needs of a child. Your child would probably have a short life expectancy but, if she did outlive you, you would have the worry of who would care for her after you are gone. No wonder most people choose abortion when offered the choice. 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.”

Richard Dawkins’ Down Syndrome abortion controversy closely follows the Twitter fiasco of last month, in which he spoke of comparing relative horribleness of different types of rape.

Photo: Twitter