My family has spent a lot of time at Landspítali, the major hospital in the capital of Iceland.
For over a year, our five-year-old son has been undergoing chemotherapy for leukemia. Our youngest son, born this April, also spent two months at the hospital as doctors ran tests on him, finding a genetic mutation in his X chromosome that only two other people in the world have been diagnosed with.
Every day, as I walked into the intensive care unit at the hospital, I looked over a wall of pictures of young children and teenagers holding up photos of themselves as premature babies. They had been born after as little as 21 or 22 weeks of pregnancy. It was a monument to the lives that were saved.
Meanwhile, the cultural conversation in the rest of Iceland seemed so distant from what I saw in the hospital. There were talks of new legislation pushing to make abortion available as late as the 22nd week of pregnancy. And this month, the issue of abortion in Iceland took the internet by storm, with a CBS News report on how the country (population 340,000) is on the verge of eliminating Down syndrome.
What sounded like an impressive medical achievement was quickly revealed to be a spin on our heartbreaking reality. Only two to three children a year are born with Down syndrome since nearly 100 percent of mothers whose tests show a high likelihood of the condition end up choosing abortion.
Those of us who value life in the womb see Iceland is not eliminating Down syndrome, but terminating babies who have it (or could have it) before they are even born.
The Icelandic media, taking up the CBS story, have even shifted to use new language around abortion. They use a term suggested by a government think tank—Þungunarrof, which translates to “pregnancy discontinuity”—rather than fóstureyðing, “fetus termination.”
In such a small country—where just a few years ago, 4,375 births were reported compared to 951 abortions—people do not like to talk about abortion in a critical way at all. When it comes up, we are aware that there are likely plenty of individuals around us who have gotten an abortion.
It’s been a surreal moment for our family following the birth of our youngest son, whose prenatal tests did not indicate any abnormalities related to his genetic mutation (it’s rare enough that it’s not on a doctor’s radar). People have cheered us on, hoping for the best for our son and us as we seek to live with whatever the future may hold. I find myself wondering, though, if there was a test for diagnosing his condition, how many of those now cheering for him would’ve decided to end his life in the womb? What about my oldest son, who has severe autism?
Given how dramatic the abortion rate, near-universal prenatal testing, and Iceland’s approach to Down syndrome, we have reason to be afraid of modern eugenics—what I see as a direct result of our society no longer being anchored to a moral standard.
Iceland’s National Lutheran Church regularly takes to big media platforms to condemn violence in sports such as Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), but in the wake of this news article concerning Down syndrome in Iceland, the silence was deafening. The few priests in the national church who want to stand for truth may take issue with its approach to abortion, but most likely experience pressure not to speak out.
There is a small remnant of churches in Iceland that remain dedicated to Scripture alone as their supreme authority for living and theology. Many have faithfully preached and served for decades, only to experience a decline in interest and attendance. They have grown exhausted in the fight to defend biblical truth.