Richard Dawkins Says He Would Abort A Down Syndrome Fetus, Twitter Goes Bananas

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pregnant woman blood testOh, Richard Dawkins. For such a smart man, how do you still not completely understand what Twitter is and isn’t used for? Last month you were quipping adorably about “mild” pedophilia and the much worse “violent pedophilia”, and now you’re working hard to ensure that everyone hates you by waxing philosophic about Down Syndrome fetuses and whether or not they should be aborted.

Yesterday Dawkins started poking the hornet’s nest again after one of his Twitter followers posed a hypothetical question:

twitter_dawkinsAnd so it began. You can probably predict what happened next. People got angry. People got very angry. There were a lot of people on Twitter who stopped by just to remind Dawkins that plenty of individuals with Down Syndrome were healthy adults who contribute to society, and to accuse Dawkins’ of advocating for eugenics.


Dawkins of course went on to defend his position, and let me tell you that that little milkshake brought all kinds of angry people to the yard, so of course he just kept on going and going:

Then he went on to clarify some of his points:

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  1. K.

    August 21, 2014 at 12:14 pm

    And the irony that Richard Dawkins is just as invested in making everyone else’s world view match his own as all the other Twitterers. That’s an emotional desire, not a logical one.

  2. MC Dangerfield

    August 21, 2014 at 12:22 pm

    Dawkins has always been an inflammatory, unlikeable dude. I really wish he weren’t the face of atheism. There are plenty of us that take a more humanistic approach to life.

    • Lackadaisical

      August 21, 2014 at 12:29 pm

      Oh yes, when talking about being an atheist I find myself apologising and promising I am not a rabid bully like him

    • js argh

      August 21, 2014 at 8:07 pm

      Probably in the same way a lot of us Christians try to disassociate ourselves with the likes of Pat Robertson, etc. Why is it that the loud, insensitive ones get the most attention in any group?

    • wicked bitch

      August 21, 2014 at 9:11 pm

      I always say, if I pretend Jack Chick doesn’t exist, will you pretend Dawkins doesn’t?

    • EmmaFromÉire

      August 21, 2014 at 8:18 pm

      It’s a shame he’s an enormous bellend, because his scientific work has been a large basis of my studying for my degree. Wonderful scientist, deeply unlikeable person.

    • brebayVadgeBadge

      August 22, 2014 at 12:55 am

      Bill Nye says essentially the same thing without the douchery. Which is probably why Dawkins gets more press.

  3. Aimee

    August 21, 2014 at 12:25 pm

    If Richard Dawkins only ever talked about science, the world would be a much, much better place.

  4. Lackadaisical

    August 21, 2014 at 12:27 pm

    Despite my own atheism I am not always a big fan of Dawkins. His position on atheism can sometimes be that of a bully and a snob, for example. I think he did phrase it, and possibly intend it in typical “I am right because I am clever” Dawkins fashion. Yes, his tweet was phrased in such a way that it accused parents who knowingly have kids with downs of being selfish and foolish. That is insensitive and knowing how he normally debates I am surprised that he backpedaled to try and soften his view (without retracting), I would expect him to be proud to ruffle the feathers of lesser mortals like us. Dawkins is a smart man but he lacks a grasp of social interactions and any kind of empathy.

    • brebayVadgeBadge

      August 22, 2014 at 12:53 am

      Yeah, I don’t want him as a representative either. Atheism is not like a religion, where you have an assortment of leaders with differing ideas and delivery. It’s the absence of something, we don’t need a mouthpiece, and if we did, he’d be the Glen Beck of atheism. I’ll pass too!

  5. Abby

    August 21, 2014 at 12:34 pm

    This just reminds me that my favorite discovery on Tumblr lately is the Richard Dawkins Hate Club. They don’t even comment on the things he says; they just post them and let his words speak for themselves.

    As is the case here.

  6. keelhaulrose

    August 21, 2014 at 12:38 pm

    I am not offended by the thought he’d have an abortion, I’m offended by his presumption that a DS life (or the life of anyone with any form of disability in that realm) cannot possibly have any form of meaning, with, or even really happiness, because even if the person doesn’t “do anything” with their life, is it truly moral to end it if it would still be a happy one?
    Yes, it’s not easy, but “easy” shouldn’t be the tipping point on the “morality” if this situation. It is not easy to be a black male in this country, would he support abortion in that situation. Poverty? If we could identify the fetus as gay or transgender? Where is the line here?

    • AE Vorro

      August 21, 2014 at 12:52 pm

      Yes. This exactly. People decide to abort for a lot of reasons, just as people hold anti-abortion views for a variety of reasons. The idea that disability means “less than” is what’s repugnant here and is, unfortunately, going to now be associated with Atheism. (And, yeah. That line of thought leads us to one ugly slippery slope about who’s valuable and who isn’t – let’s just not go there, man.)

    • zaphod

      August 21, 2014 at 4:12 pm

      Except he didn’t really make the connection. The connection was made when the question was asked. If the question isn’t offensive, than neither is the answer. Is the question offensive? I’m personally not sure.

    • AE Vorro

      August 21, 2014 at 4:45 pm

      Absolutely, he did not make any connection. But given that he’s the current face of Atheism, it’s not going to reflect well on Atheists in general, is all I mean.

    • WhoremonalCrazyLotusSlugalo

      August 21, 2014 at 1:08 pm

      Oh crap, and here I thought I was being all “gotcha” and novel. Dang it, keelhaulrose… *throws arms up…gets a cupcake*

    • Rachel Sea

      August 21, 2014 at 1:30 pm

      I don’t think that’s his assumption, because you’d have to live in a cave not to know that some people with Down’s lead fulfilling lives. He addresses explicitly what my exact fears would be, which is that unless your child predeceases you (and they very well might owing to the heart defects which are common with Down’s), you have to worry about where they will end up when you die. You don’t get to know what their cognitive abilities will be until they are grown, so you risk sending your adult child out in to the world to fend for themselves with the cognitive ability of a toddler. I’m told that in some places the group homes and institutions are warm loving places where rainbows are forever shooting out of people’s butts, but in my experience, having worked in group homes, and with day programs, and having inside knowledge about county facilities, these places can be hell on earth. It is virtually expected that at some point almost every woman living is one of these places will be raped, and that every person will be assaulted or neglected in some way. It happens ALL the time. I would rather my child not be alive than go to one of those places. There is a reason why the murder/suicide of a disabled child and their primary caregiving parent isn’t all that unusual.

    • keelhaulrose

      August 21, 2014 at 2:07 pm

      I get it, because I worry about what will happen if my daughter doesn’t make enough gains to care for herself in the future. And I’m aware my situation is different because I had no warning about my daughter’s disability.
      However, to portray something like bringing a child with disabilities into this world as blanket immoral is demeaning to those who are struggling or will struggle with the decision, and shaming to those who chose to keep the baby, because there is no singular circumstance. I happen to live in the same area as three excellent group home organizations. I worked at one, and I know how happy our residents were. I will not put on the rose colored glasses and say nothing bad ever happened, but it was so rare, even on the child side, that I would not hesitate to put my child there. That’s just my example. Everyone’s circumstances are different, and a blanket statements just shouldn’t be made, especially about the morality of something because that’s so vague and fluid.

    • Lackadaisical

      August 22, 2014 at 7:58 am

      Those are valid concerns, and I can utterly understand choosing to abort because of them. However, he phrased it a bit stronger than that and called parents who knowingly give birth to a disabled child immoral because of, among other reasons, that potential future. Saying I would rather not risk having a child who goes there is vastly different from saying any parent who knowingly has a child who could end up there is immoral. Your reasonable and well thought out position is not the same as Dawkins judgemental position. Given the wider context of every other statement made and interview printed I suspect he did mean it the way offended people interpreted it, not only that I suspect that he would consider a child who didn’t go to university a wasted life and one who is incapable of earning a degree in a science subject to be less than a person, he is that arrogant.

  7. wispy

    August 21, 2014 at 12:39 pm

    This makes me sick and I don’t care about his dumb little “apology” or his “reduce suffering/increase happiness” BS. He seems to forget that people with Down syndrome are HUMAN BEINGS just as worthy of a life as anyone else, including his “morally superior” self.

    • Am I?

      August 21, 2014 at 12:47 pm

      People, yes. But a fetus… Not sure I’d agree.

    • wispy

      August 21, 2014 at 1:00 pm

      Ok but I’m not really talking about aborting a fetus. I’m talking more about the way he seems to view people with Down syndrome and saying it is “immoral” to bring them into the world. He acts like they live lives of nonstop suffering, cause their parents suffering, and are basically useless. Of course it is hard. But he has no clue what happiness that life could bring. I’m not judging anyone who would abort a fetus. I don’t like his arrogant way of making his “happiness/suffering” argument.

    • Rachel Sea

      August 21, 2014 at 1:44 pm

      He’s not saying that it’s nonstop suffering, he’s saying that it’s such an enormous risk that it’s immoral. Few people ever get to see how people with Down’s live when they are too disabled to live outside of an institution, but if you ever did, you’d probably be horrified. Staff in those places have access to torture the residents, and if the residents are non-verbal then they have no protection. Not many people with a high level of compassion and competence go to work for near-minimum wage in such a physically and emotionally exhausting job. Civil rights violations are constant, mostly out of greed or ignorance, but often enough out of pure malevolence.

    • keelhaulrose

      August 21, 2014 at 2:11 pm

      And you’re basing your opinion on all institutions (which have fallen out of style in favor of community homes) based on visiting all and seeing these universal abuses?

    • Rachel Sea

      August 21, 2014 at 2:35 pm

      I’m basing it on my tri-county area, in which the group homes are little better than the state hospitals they replaced, as well as discussions with parents of special needs kids across the country. I worked in one of those group homes, and interacted with many others through day programs, and in my area they are all awful. Employees are kept on even when abuse is suspected and neglect is proven because it’s too hard to find people who will change adult diapers for $7.50 an hour, and its illegal to be understaffed. The state licencing boards and ombudsman who are supposed to respond to allegations of abuse and neglect are ineffectual, and often turn a blind eye because they have no housing alternatives if they do crack down and close a problem facility.

      The county facility has been much worse, covering up as much as a decade of serious serial abuse and rape by an orderly, and a doctor, respectively.

      The homes in which residents are verbal do tend to be much better because the residents can tell licensing nurses and police what goes on, but the most vulnerable population (those without expressive language) is fucked because administration can come up with a reasonable excuse for marks on their bodies besides being hit or left in their own waste, and unless another staff member witnesses it, and can prove malice, there is no one to contradict.

    • ted3553

      August 21, 2014 at 2:53 pm

      Yeah, he lost me when he said it would be immoral to knowingly bring a child with down syndrome into the world. I have known lots of people with varying degrees of down’s and while I may have made a different decision in their shoes, I hardly think their parents were immoral to have them.

    • WhoremonalCrazyLotusSlugalo

      August 21, 2014 at 1:02 pm

      How about a fetus that would be born into poverty? Minorities? Genetic predisposition to heart disease, diabetes, obesity, breast cancer? Families that are too religious? Families that aren’t religious?

      Would you counsel a teenaged girl living in poverty using degrading language to morally shame and influence her decision to keep or abort the fetus she is carrying? After all, that child will be born at a disadvantage, right?

    • Em

      August 21, 2014 at 1:29 pm

      I would certainly tell her I’d abort in her circumstances, and further that I’d counsel my own daughter to do so as well- and YES-it IS immoral to bring a child into this world for which cannot provide. She is totally free to choose, as it is her right, but if she is going to plan to use tax supported programs to subsidize her, I’ll definitely have an opinion on it. But generally speaking, I wouldn’t be offering any opinion to her unless I was asked to do so.

    • WhoremonalCrazyLotusSlugalo

      August 21, 2014 at 3:34 pm

      I feel like that’s the same thing as a pro-life person sitting down with a young girl who is expecting an unbiased assessment of her situation and options and instead, being hijacked by religious dogma and slut shaming.

      BTW, Whatever family dynamic you have is yours and it’s not my place to interfere with you any more than it is for me to interfere with the way the Duggars squash their daughters. But when you publicly abuse an opportunity to have an open and fair discussion with a stranger in a vulnerable position in an effort to sway her to your version of morality, we’re going to have issues.

    • Rachel Sea

      August 21, 2014 at 2:02 pm

      It’s perception of risk. If you know that poverty means your child is going to be stunted with starvation you might be a lot more inclined to abort than if it means they are only going to get charity shop shoes. If they are going to die from heart disease as an 8 year old you might be more inclined to abort than if they are going to suffer heart disease in their 50s. If you believe it is vastly more likely that a person with Down’s is going to spend most of their adult life stimming in the corner of a disgusting institution where they have a constant rash from sitting in their own urine, you are much more likely to abort than if you think they are going to be a Special Olympian.

    • WhoremonalCrazyLotusSlugalo

      August 21, 2014 at 3:16 pm

      I guess my issue isn’t the rightness or wrongness of the decision, but the backdoor moral shaming of any woman who might feel like she and her family may be prepared for and capable of successfully raising a person with DS. I understand that there may be a terrible fate for people whose parents were unprepared and uninformed. This is tragic beyond words. But it is not the only fate and there are lots of people who do very well…whatever their challenges may be.

      As a man with intelligence, respect and influence, Dawkins overstepped his obligation and should have kept his moral judgment to himself. That’s where I am, anyway.

    • Rachel Sea

      August 21, 2014 at 5:38 pm

      Dawkins is a douche, no question, but it takes more than information to keep a person who can’t self-advocate safe and healthy. In my case, I would have to become a stay at home parent and move to a municipality where the group homes, county facilities, state hospitals, day programs and vocational programs were all a lot better, and where I could feel confident that they would continue to be outstanding for the next 70 years, and that’s a hell of a thing to have to do with a medically fragile baby. The last thing you want to do when you have a family member with significant needs is move hundreds of miles away from your established support system.

    • WhoremonalCrazyLotusSlugalo

      August 21, 2014 at 7:36 pm

      It is definitely not something to take on without serious consideration of all the potential pitfalls… Like what will happen to this child should you become unable to care for him/her? Big, huge questions… I totally agree.

  8. allisonjayne

    August 21, 2014 at 12:40 pm

    Well, I just checked, and he could have easily added, “If it were me” to the beginning without going anywhere near over 140 characters, so there’s that. Without that disclaimer, it does read like he’s telling her what to do.

    Of course, there’s also the fact that Richard Dawkins, as far as I know, does not have a uterus, so he will never face that particular dilemma anyway.

    • NYCNanny

      August 21, 2014 at 3:55 pm

      But didn’t she ask him his opinion…? Or am I missing something.

    • allisonjayne

      August 21, 2014 at 4:25 pm

      Yeah, which is why I agree with Theresa – the whole thing is reminiscent of those offensive “would you rather be blind or deaf? would you rather lose your arms or your legs” games that people play.

  9. Guest

    August 21, 2014 at 12:42 pm

    That is his personal view and he is entitled to it. If you are going to support the Bible and gun-toting woman who does not believe in abortion and women’s rights and defend her on here to not be criticized for her views, you have to support him just as much. I’m not at all saying I agree with him in the slightest but it is his right to speak his mind. And it is your right to choose not to listen.

    • allisonjayne

      August 21, 2014 at 12:51 pm

      Of course he’s entitled to it. No one said he wasn’t. No one here said he should have his internet taken away.

    • Guest

      August 21, 2014 at 12:55 pm

      But they write a whole article about how Miss Bible-Thumper should not have anyone criticize her and what she stands for, and yet they decide that Dawkins does not deserve the same consideration. You can’t decide that one person deserves a whole article about being allowed to say what they want to and someone else gets an article about how they deserve to be criticized. You can’t have it both ways. Hypocrisy at it’s finest.

    • LK

      August 21, 2014 at 1:02 pm

      You actually totally can. You can absolutely look at different circumstances and deem them appropriate or not appropriate based on delivery and substance.

    • allisonjayne

      August 21, 2014 at 1:03 pm

      Ok, I went back and found that article you’re referring to. It absolutely did NOT state that no one should criticize her. Eve said that it is heinous that she received death and rape threats.

      I just did a quick search and don’t see anyone on twitter threatening to rape or kill Richard Dawkins because of his comments. So…you’re not comparing the same thing at all here.

    • WhoremonalCrazyLotusSlugalo

      August 21, 2014 at 12:56 pm

      I don’t think anyone said he wasn’t entitled to his opinion. I’ll defend the worst human slime to spew their bile because it’s their right…and it’s my right to view him as a sanctimonious, condescending, un-sympathetic smarty-pants.

    • CMJ

      August 21, 2014 at 2:24 pm

      He can speak his mind and people can choose not to listen but they can also choose to criticize his opinion.

    • brebayVadgeBadge

      August 22, 2014 at 12:49 am

      Good grief, what do you people not get about free speech? It doesn’t mean not condemning their ideas. Freedom of speech isn’t the freedom not to have people call you out when you say something terrible, it only means you have the right to say something terrible, not to control others’ reactions to it. No one here has said he should be censored, only that his speech is ignorant and awful. That’s THEIR free exercise of speech. Then he can disagree back. Try to imagine a game of catch if it gets too complicated…

    • whiteroses

      August 23, 2014 at 1:49 pm

      Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. And everyone else is entitled to say what they think about that opinion when it’s expressed publicly.

  10. WhoremonalCrazyLotusSlugalo

    August 21, 2014 at 12:50 pm

    “It’s not really my place to make such a profoundly personal judgement without knowing you. Talk with your family.”

    There. Fixed it.

  11. LK

    August 21, 2014 at 1:00 pm

    “because I think it’s kind of shitty to play a little game of “Would You Rather” for my own intellectual stimulation when other people are faced with the actual choice.”
    This exactly. For both the person who started the conversation rolling and him for continuing it ON TWITTER, come the hell along. It’s demeaning to people faced with such a choice and to families and individuals who live with Down’s.

  12. Rachel Sea

    August 21, 2014 at 1:20 pm

    His logic is sound but his tone is just awful. I would absolutely abort a fetus who appeared to have developmental disabilities that would significantly impair their ability to self advocate, because I know what happens in group homes and institutions, but that doesn’t mean aborting wouldn’t be agony.

    • Lackadaisical

      August 22, 2014 at 7:04 am

      That is a perfectly valid position that I can respect, but then I notice you didn’t insult people with Downs Syndrome or their parents in stating it. Had he said something like that then he wouldn’t have had the same backlash.

    • Rachel Sea

      August 22, 2014 at 12:31 pm

      Unfortunately his social intelligence is no match for his scientific intelligence.

  13. Em

    August 21, 2014 at 1:25 pm

    That pretty much summed our feelings up as well. We screened with full intentions of terminating for fetal anomaly on our last, and 4th full-term pregnancy.

    • ted3553

      August 21, 2014 at 2:57 pm

      I screened for everything I could for a much wanted pregnancy with intentions that I would terminate if there was an anomaly as well. I also think that people who choose not to abort if they find an anomaly are not immoral. That’s where Mr. dawkins and I disagree.

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  16. Lana

    August 21, 2014 at 2:05 pm

    GTFO. Richard Dawkins said something offensive again on social media?

    Being smart about one thing, even about several things, does not necessarily make one any better of a person, or any more mentally stable, than anyone else. Dawkins has problems. He seems really, really hooked on attracting negative attention to himself. I’m pretty sure he knows exactly what the response will be every time he says something asinine, and that he gets off on it. I’m bored by him. Can we trade him for Robin Williams back?

    • brebayVadgeBadge

      August 22, 2014 at 12:45 am

      Wait, you’re saying Richard Dawkins is actually Warren??? It all makes sense now.

  17. Williwaw

    August 21, 2014 at 3:29 pm

    I really enjoy Richard Dawkins’ science writing and I agree with most of what he says but when it comes to interacting with other human beings on sensitive personal issues, I think he’s terrible. You can’t have a meaningful discussion about the morality of abortion or how happy people with Down’s syndrome are on Twitter, so why even try? Also, I am unhappy that Dawkins has become the public face of atheism, because his in-your-face attitude doesn’t represent all of us.

  18. meinjin

    August 21, 2014 at 4:25 pm

    It’s not that he would have an abortion if the fetus had Down Syndrome that offends me, because I feel the same way for my own personal choice; it’s that he phrased it as though it were the only logical and responsible thing to do that gets me. He said it would be immoral to do otherwise, and that’s NOT okay– I think he missed that. His whole tone of the tweet was condescending.

  19. Spiderpigmom

    August 21, 2014 at 4:44 pm

    Well, I take with your title. Dawkins didn’t just say he would abort, which would have been perfectly acceptable. He said that it would be immoral not to abort. While I find the decision to abort a fetus with DS a perfectly reasonable one, I stridently disagree that bringing the pregnancy to term is immoral. Not everyone has the capacity or inclination to become the parent of a special needs child, but for those who do, it’s ceding to the pressure of people who think DS babies have no business being born that would be immoral.

    • PAJane

      August 22, 2014 at 11:57 am

      He qualifies that, though. “…if your morality is based, as mine is, on a desire to increase the sum of happiness and reduce suffering…” His standard for what is ethical is the option that causes the most happiness and the least amount of suffering. He sees bringing a Downs child into the world as the potential source of a great deal of suffering, first on behalf of the caretakers, and later on behalf of the child, when the caretakers are no longer able to care for them. SO, the situation doesn’t meet his standard for what is moral.
      If your standard of morality is, for example, that all life is precious and should be fostered and supported no matter what, then abortion is not a moral choice in any situation. Maybe your standard is a more moderate, situational, “Hey, do I believe I have the resources and support system in place to really provide a happy and stable life for a Downs child?”
      I think what’s pissing a lot of people off is that he’s trying to have a philosophical discussion that boils down to drawing a hard and fast line about a totally hypothetical situation. It doesn’t really take emotions into account, or the specific situations of individual families. He also acknowledges that other people might make a completely different decision, based on a different standard of morality.

  20. Melissa

    August 21, 2014 at 4:57 pm

    People are free to think what they want, but I have a child with Down Syndrome and while his development is indeed slower ‘normal’, he is an otherwise very healthy child. I realize not all parents are this lucky, but women deserve to have unbiased, up-to-date information when faced with the possibility of having a child with Down Syndrome. I can tell you this though–those who say “I don’t know what I’d do”….most likely, you’d do whatever it took to help that child lead a normal, happy life, because it’s your own flesh and blood. Seemingly normal children at birth can turn out to be developmentally delayed or have mental/behavioral issues–would you abandon that child? Most likely, no. Down Syndrome isn’t any different!

  21. brebayVadgeBadge

    August 22, 2014 at 12:44 am

    I’m still double-taking on “mild pedophilia” WTF???

  22. LoudGuitr

    August 22, 2014 at 10:47 am

    Much aod about nothing. Dawkins is not particularly adept at social discourse and isn’t that concerned with filtering his comments. He is a scientist, not a politician. I believe most reasonable people would certainly consider abortion in the face of a lifetime of disability and assisted living for a DS fetus. He gave the opposition some daylight by not considering his words fully, but the concept is sound. If one were to choose to bring the child to term, that’s fine too. But not for Dawkins and not for me.

  23. babaloo maloo

    August 22, 2014 at 8:03 pm

    Oh look, another middle class white man with an opinion on abortion.

  24. kittymom

    August 22, 2014 at 9:10 pm

    lol. Oh silly man. Good thing he doesn’t have a uterus and isn’t a woman 😉 (Although, the choice would be his and I would support him to make whatever choice is best for him)

  25. bla blah

    August 23, 2014 at 3:13 am

    Why are so many people offended when 90% of woman who are pregnant with a ds BABY get an abortion. Planned parenthood profits from this sick agenda to de humanize unborn children

  26. Alexandra

    August 26, 2014 at 12:40 pm

    I’m more troubled by the person who asked his opinion. WTF????? Ask your doctor or do some research. He’s just having a douchbag opinion because, well, that’s his opinion. If he wants to stand behind it, good for him. FOR HIM.
    But even he is like “well, it’s YOUR decision” Why is someone asking him this? WHy?

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