A recent CBS report on Iceland’s pre-natal policies has sparked sharp criticism of the country from American conservatives, among them Republican senator Ted Cruz and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin. CEO of deCODE Kári Stefánsson responded to their complaints this morning.
The CBS report covered many aspects of pre-natal care in Iceland. Amongst them was that it is standard practice to inform expecting mothers that they can have pre-natal screening to detect for signs of Down Syndrome. In cases where screening positively indicates signs of Down Syndrome, the great majority of women elect to terminate the pregnancy.
This has drawn criticism from the farther right wing in the United States. Cruz mischaracterised the news on Twitter, saying there was a “100% termination rate” for “children” with Down Syndrome, calling it “truly sad”. Palin kicked things up a notch, accusing Iceland of trying to mimic Nazi Germany.
For the record, there is no requirement whatsoever for women to accept screening, let alone terminate their pregnancies if Down Syndrome indications are detected, and that there are many Icelanders of all ages with Down Syndrome is easily verifiable. Kári Stefánsson addressed the controversy on public broadcasting this morning.
Kári said that Palin and Cruz are speaking from a conservative point of view that life begins at conception and is sacred, adding that western society has decided that it is natural for a woman to terminate a pregnancy if she elects to do so. However, he added, “I agree with society’s decision but I don’t think it’s one we take lightly. … The moral questions that arise are very complicated, and in some cases impossible to reconcile.”
In point of fact, as Kjarninn points out, Iceland’s abortion laws are actually amongst the most conservative in Europe. Iceland’s abortion laws, last codified in 1975, still require women to have two unrelated parties sign off in order for her to have permission to get an abortion.