When parents first hold their baby, they have no way of predicting the type of person that child will become. Will he or she be kind or mean, saint or sinner? An artist or an entrepreneur? If certain types of disabilities are discovered in utero, many parents are told their child will “suffer” and/or be a “vegetable,” whatever that means. I know plenty of people who were expected to suffer who don’t, and I don’t know anyone who is a carrot.
Abortion is a divisive subject with ardent supporters and opponents. Being pro-choice or pro-life is a matter of personal conscience, constrained by state law and religious or moral tenets. While I unabashedly advocate for the rights and lives of people with disabilities, born or unborn, I realize the complexity of this decision. Are bills needed to protect the unborn with Down syndrome from abortion? Yes, they are, and I offer the following reasons:
- An in utero diagnosis of Down syndrome may not be suspected or confirmed until after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Parents report they mentally “shut down” when they hear the news and report they are in a poor position to process all the information being thrown at them. Well-meaning doctors push mind-numb parents to terminate the pregnancy before the abortion window closes. Doctors also often paint a worst-case scenario if parents continue the pregnancy. Some label this behavior “nudgenics,” nudging expectant parents toward fetal termination. Unfortunately, many people don’t know the “other side,” the side of the joys of raising such a child.
- Tests are tests. A quad screen is a blood test. It is a preliminary screen that can diagnose Down syndrome with 81 percent accuracy, but that also means there is a 19 percent chance it won’t, and, disturbingly, a 5 percent chance of a false positive, meaning it identifies Down syndrome when the baby does not have it. A more accurate test is an amniocentesis, which detects Down syndrome with 98 percent accuracy. I know of situations where parents were strongly encouraged to terminate their pregnancy because of an in utero diagnosis of disability, yet there was none when the child was born. I also know of parents whose testing showed a baby free from issues only to find the baby had a disability when born.
- What’s wrong with having a child with Down syndrome? I have interviewed many people with children with Down syndrome. Without exception, given time, they consider themselves blessed for having such a child. My youngest daughter has Down syndrome, and I can say without reservation that there have been more joys than trials. She has had a profound impact for good on my whole family. In 2013, a question was posed on Reddit: “Would you abort a pregnancy if you found out your infant would be born with a serious disease or disorder?” Although not a scientific study, the answers were telling. Of more than 1,200 unique responses, 53 percent stated they would not abort such a child, 35 percent said they would and 12 percent of the comments were neutral. The interesting part is that the people saying they would not abort were the ones with direct experience, either as the parent or family member. The “yes” and “neutral” responses came from people without any direct experience.
- Society is richer as it becomes more diverse. People with disabilities are part of the fabric of a diverse society, just as are people of various racial, ethnic, cultural, religious and other backgrounds and differences. For a community to be truly diverse, it must include all its members as equal and valued citizens. To eliminate any group smacks of eugenics, and doing so tears a hole in the fabric of society. Unfortunately, some groups, such as people with disabilities, need protection and bills, so bills prohibiting the abortion of people with Down syndrome are necessary.