Story About Iceland Sets Off Angry Debate Over Abortion

CBS explored the declining number of Down syndrome births
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 17, 2017 11:30 AM CDT
Updated Aug 20, 2017 11:00 AM CDT
CBS Story on Down Syndrome Causes Ruckus Over Abortion
Sarah Palin likens Iceland to Nazi Germany over the screening for Down syndrome.   (AP Photo/Scott Eklund, File)

A story by CBS News about the declining number of Down syndrome births in Iceland has caused an uproar, with conservative critics accusing the story of celebrating abortion and others lashing out at Iceland itself. There's so much to unpack that even the myth-busting site Snopes has weighed in to set some things straight. A look at the controversy:

  • The story: It says that while prenatal screenings have led to a reduction in Down syndrome births in the US and Europe, "few countries have come as close to eradicating Down syndrome births as Iceland." A tweet promoting the story read, "Iceland is on pace to virtually eliminate Down syndrome through abortion."

  • The screening: The story explains that doctors must inform pregnant women that such screening is available, but it makes clear that women can choose not to have the screening. Roughly 80% to 85% of women agree to it, however, and, of those, "close to 100%" choose to have an abortion if they get a positive test for Down syndrome, per the story.
  • The outrage: Sarah Palin, whose son, Trig, has Down syndrome, likened Iceland to Nazi Germany in an interview with Fox News. "This intolerance for people who may not look like you is so wrong," she says. The sentiment is shared: It amounts to "eugenics," argues Alexandra DeSanctis at the National Review. This isn't "eliminating Down syndrome," she adds. "It's eliminating people." Ted Cruz tweeted: "Truly sad. News celebrating Iceland's '100% termination rate' for children w/ Downs Syndrome."
  • Snopes: The website notes that some critics are distorting what the story actually said, calling out one headline in particular that read, "Iceland kills 100% of babies with Down syndrome in abortion: New report.” Snopes clarifies: "The Icelandic government does not mandate abortions for mothers whose unborn children test positive for Down syndrome, nor do they mandate that a mother is required to take the test in the first place."
  • The stats: A piece at Iceland Magazine takes issue with the CBS assertion that nearly 100% of women who get a positive test have an abortion. It quotes one doctor who says the figure is nowhere near that, and the magazine suggests it's closer to 80% to 85%. And then there's the 20% or so of women who choose not to have the screening in the first place. (The CBS story says the percentage of US women who opt for abortion after a positive test is 67%, while the National Review piece cites stats putting it between 67% and 90%.)
  • Abortion views: Another factor in all of this is opposing views of abortion, of course. A counselor of pregnant women at an Icelandic hospital acknowledges that some see it as murder but says that's not the prevailing view in Iceland. "We don't look at abortion as a murder," she tells CBS. "We look at it as a thing that we ended. We ended a possible life that may have had a huge complication ... preventing suffering for the child and for the family."
(Read more Iceland stories.)

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