New Down Syndrome Test Will Likely Lead to More Abortions

Opinion   |   Rachel Schlater   |   Nov 21, 2011   |   2:05PM   |   Washington, DC

An article was released by the New York Post last week revealing the discovery of “a new, simple way to detect Down syndrome in a fetus.” The test surpasses currently used methods of testing in safety and convenience, making it more likely that pregnant women will commonly be able to know before birth whether the child will have Down syndrome.

The article goes on to report that “92% of women who get a definitive diagnosis of Down choose to abort, surveys show.”

In effect, the new test will enable more pregnant women to find whether her child will have Down syndrome and statistics show that nearly all of these women will decide to abort the child.

The primary question posed by these findings is, “are we facing a world removed of people who have Down syndrome?”  If the mother makes the decision to abort based upon the imperfection found in the child, what road is legal and accepted abortion enabling humanity to take?

From here, one can delve further: what will come to those who are depressed? To those who have ADD? To those who have a foreseeable dark and dim future, laden with poverty, a broken home, or no home? A humanity that chooses to reject children for their imperfections has either lost hope, lost the ability to accept suffering, or lost perspective.

For the sake of offering perspective, let me reiterate some scenarios that fill real life: Life is an athletic, charismatic high school grad, who is enjoying life as college approaches when an aneurysm sends him into a paralyzed state. Depression hits. Dreams change. But, his constant needs have enabled his mother to love him more than she ever has. This boy is full of life.

Life is girl has to be fed by an IV because she is allergic to nearly all foods. She eats a diet removed of not only meat, gluten, dairy and nuts, but virtually any food that could nourish her body. Her parents call the tenth specialist as she approaches her teenage years, bound to be full of insecurity because of her weight. But, she loves to tell stories, and without her jokes, her best friend wouldn’t know how to laugh. This girl is full of life.

Life is a little boy is so plagued by an anxiety disorder that he can’t be in any room without having his mother in eyesight. She feels trapped. He’s starting to feel like he’ll never feel happy. He is five. But, he loves to play basketball, and he can dribble past kids twice his size. This boy is full of life.

This is life. We live in a difficult economy. Families go years without a primary income. Violence is germinating in neighborhoods all over the country, filling prisons with young men and leaving children fatherless. People suffer from chronic illness. Babies are diagnosed with incurable diseases and are formed with unchangeable cellular structures.

Reality doesn’t tell us that hardship makes for an impossible opportunity to have a good life. Reality tells us that despite the weight of suffering, life is abundant, and hope sprouts up with each new opportunity to live.

How do I know this? I don’t have a degree in sociology or anthropology. I’m not a social scientist. I’ve never studied psychology or even theology. I have no credentials that display an in-depth understanding of the way the world works and I’ve only lived in it for 24 years.

But the foundation of my conviction has been formed by the years I have been a sister to Natalie, who is a 19 year-old girl with Down syndrome.

The understanding given to the mother who chooses to abort her child with the disability Natalie has, is that Down syndrome is most generally characterized by having a duplicate of chromosome 21, a condition which causes mild mental retardation, along with a few other telling physical markers, such as a flattened ridge between the eyes. They understand that the child won’t be as smart or as beautiful as they had imagined.

Natalie is 4-foot-nothing, a star speller, makes a mean scrambled egg, has a spectacular jump shot, and has a sincerely profound ability to radiate any room with her smile and great attitude. I spend time with Natalie as others would spend time with a therapist. She teaches me how to love life simply, without marring it by worry and doubt. On a day that we’re planning to do something together, she’ll text me at least 6 times beforehand, saying how excited she is about it.

My mom has shared with me that when she brought Natalie home from the hospital, she would lay next to her new, weak infant in fear, distraught by the unknown path of hardship that she had suddenly been forced to travel. Both she and my dad felt alone, under-prepared, and doubtful that they would ever lead a normal life again. Needless to say, they did experience hardship in raising a child with Down syndrome. (Pictured: Natalie, my dad and niece, Kate at the apple orchard.)

Today, all of their other children grown, my mom and dad find a companion in Natalie. My mom and Natalie have learned Spanish together from CD’s on the way to Natalie’s school. They talk about the best hair styles after Natalie gets home from work at a hair salon. My dad and Natalie love listening to country music and working outside together. My dad enjoys cheering Natalie on at her Special Olympics softball and basketball games.

At random, Natalie will often ask my dad, “Dad, do you love life?” to which he responds, “Nat, I love life” and she follows “me too, Dad. I love life.”

As Natalie’s parents, they are filled up by her joy, not emptied out by her need for care. Natalie presents to my parents, to me, and to literally everyone she meets an opportunity to behold the simple way she lives, and react in gratitude for the moments they are able to experience a semblance of her happiness.

Natalie’s life is not singular. The lives of many individuals with Down syndrome present a tangible, real example of why fear of hardship should not narrow the ability to see fulfillment and happiness. The lives of those with Down syndrome are proof that when presented with what will now be a very common opportunity to abort ones like them, fear of the unknown will be overcome by hope.

LifeNews Note:  Rachel Schlater is the public relations and communications manager for Ohio Right to Life.