Unborn babies with Down syndrome in Iceland are being aborted in astonishing numbers – but that’s not how CBS reported on the news.
On Monday night, CBS News On Assignment investigated Down syndrome “disappearing” in Iceland with correspondent Elaine Quijano. While Quijano’s report was fair, CBS misleadingly advertised the story by touting that Iceland was “eliminating” Down syndrome – not “eliminating” unborn babies with Down syndrome.
In her opening, Quijano reported that “over the last decade or so, 100% of pregnant women whose prenatal tests have come back positive for Down syndrome, have decided to end their pregnancies.” While testing for Down syndrome isn’t mandatory, the government of Iceland requires that pregnant women know it’s available.
The story sparked a social media backlash, not against Iceland as much as against CBS’ portrayal of Quijano’s report.
Accompanying Quijano’s report, CBS published an online story by producer Julian Quinones and writer Arijeta Lajka. The headline called Iceland the “country where Down syndrome is disappearing.”
The problem is, Down syndrome isn’t “disappearing.” Rather, unborn babies diagnosed with Down syndrome are – through abortion. Instead of treating the genetic disorder, Iceland is removing the person.
That was a point actress Patricia Heaton (Everybody Loves Raymond, The Middle) slammed CBS News for on social media. Before the segment aired, the network teased on Twitter that “Iceland is on pace to virtually eliminate Down syndrome through abortion.”
“Iceland isn't actually eliminating Down Syndrome,” Heaton tweeted back. “They're just killing everybody that has it. Big difference.”
The on-air segment boasted the same message – though it wasn’t Quijano’s fault. CBS opened her report by placing the words “Iceland is on the verge of elimination Down syndrome” on the screen, and then the phrase “Disappearing Down.”
For her part, Quijano reported fairly, voicing pro-life concerns.
“Down syndrome is a genetic disorder, which results in distinct facial features, and a range of developmental issues,” she stressed, “but many born with the condition today can still live long, healthy lives.”
Besides interviewing geneticists and health experts, she spoke with expectant mothers who refused the testing, mothers of children with Down syndrome and adults with Down syndrome.
One of those adults was 30-year-old Halldora Jonsdottir.
“For people who are listening and watching,” Quijano asked, “what would you tell them about people who have Down syndrome?”
“They just see Downs. They don’t see me,” Jonsdottir admitted. “I want people to see that I am just like everybody else.”
While capturing footage of Jonsdottir with her boyfriend, Quijano even exclaimed, “It makes me very happy to see such happy people.”
But not every moment was as joyful.
As a counselor for women with difficult pregnancies at Iceland’s Landspitali University Hospital, Helga Sol Olafsdottir revealed her take on abortion.
When women have a difficult time deciding about abortion, she told Quijano, she reassures them, “This is your life, you have the right to choose how your life will look like."
Never mind the life of the unborn baby – something Quijano pointed out.
"In America,” Quijano inserted, “I think some people would be confused about people calling this 'our child,' saying a prayer or saying goodbye or having a priest come in -- because to them abortion is murder."
"We don't look at abortion as a murder. 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 also for the family,” she said. “And I think that is more right than seeing it as a murder -- that's so black and white. Life isn't black and white. Life is grey."
During her interview she showed Quijano a prayer card for one baby who died in abortion – with little footprints of the baby made in ink. They were smaller than Quijano’s thumbprint.