Dawkins was widely condemned for his tweet a couple of weeks ago claiming that it would be "immoral" not to abort a fetus with Down Syndrome. The claim seems pretty implausible on its face if we read "immoral" in the "reactive" sense indicating blameworthiness or moral criticizability. But if we instead address the question of 1st-personal moral guidance -- if faced with this situation, what should I do? -- Dawkins' response strikes me as more defensible. (Dawkins' own elaboration seems to indicate that something more in this vicinity was indeed his intended meaning.)
Why think that aborting a cognitively disabled fetus is the morally better option? Many would allow that, faced with a choice between a normal/healthy child or a cognitively disabled one, it would be wrong to choose the latter. We expect the more able to child to have more opportunities for a better life, and -- as a matter of moral principle -- we should prefer to bring into existence better rather than worse lives when possible.
If we combine this view of procreative beneficence with the strong pro-choice view that abortion is morally innocuous (effectively just a more invasive, unpleasant form of contraception), then the choice to keep a DS fetus when one could instead abort it and start anew just is, in effect, to choose to have a DS child over a normal one. (Of course there are exceptions that could make a difference: if abortion would be psychologically traumatic for the woman, or if there are fertility issues such that "starting anew" is not a feasible option, etc. The claim is just that in certain core cases -- all else equal -- the decisions can be seen as morally equivalent.)
Some of Dawkins' philosophical critics seem in such a rush to condemn him that they risk making serious philosophical errors themselves.
Iain Brassington at the Journal of Medical Ethics blog writes: "to make that kind of statement is indefensible for more or less the same reason as a statement to the effect that a woman isn’t allowed to have an abortion [...] Choice is minimised." But the right to choose does not entail that either option is equally choice-worthy. Sometimes people have a right to choose wrongly. Indeed, contra Iain, I think it should be uncontroversial that abortion may (in some circumstances) be obligatory: Suppose your fetus is diagnosed with anencephaly, or some comparably serious developmental defect that guarantees a short and (if sentient at all) pain-filled life. You ask yourself the question, "Should I abort this fetus?" Does anyone really think that a sensible morality would remain silent on this question? That all one can do is pick arbitrarily, with no moral reasons favouring one option over the other?
Maybe strangers should remain silent on the question -- none of our business, and all that -- but insofar as we're engaged in first-personal moral inquiry rather than second-personal haranguing, I see no reason to deny that there is an answer "out there" to be found. And in at least some (extreme) cases, it seems to me extremely clear that the answer to the question "should I abort?" will be yes.
Now, of course, the case of Down Syndrome is less extreme, and so less clear. Even if abortion is the morally best option, permissive moral views could plausibly hold this to be a case of permissible sub-optimality -- i.e., morality may hold that having a DS child is not ideal, but it is nonetheless totally fine. After all, we all do morally suboptimal things all the time! But bringing a child into the world is a serious matter, so I don't think it's totally outrageous to think that morality might be especially stringent here, and require us to instead really try to do the very best we can. Either way, I don't mean to settle the question here, but merely suggest that the Dawkinsian view may be more defensible than it at first appears -- especially once we clearly distinguish questions of moral guidance from moral reaction.