Recently in Armenia, in the moments following her son’s birth, baby Leo’s mother saw only sad faces and heard a dread-like verdict from the doctor that Leo had Down syndrome. Told by the hospital she had to decide whether or not to keep her son, she decided she could not care for a child with Down syndrome.
Leo’s father, Samuel, was then faced with a peculiar decision: choose between his wife and new baby. Upon learning the news, Samuel was a bit shocked at first, but on seeing Leo, he proclaimed with joy, ‘He’s beautiful, he’s perfect and I’m absolutely keeping him.'” Samuel’s wife filed for divorce, while Samuel is raising Leo by himself.
Certainly, a diagnosis of disability can elicit traumatic feelings within families, especially when the “news” is delivered with a dose of horror and without information about how to handle the decision.
Last spring, State Rep. Joe Harrison (R-Gray) authored a bill requiring more robust information and resources to be offered to parents of children either diagnosed in utero or born with Down syndrome. Prior to this bill, the information provided to parents on the diagnosis was mixed and could include a subtle (or not so subtle) recommendation to abortion or abandonment. Numerous studies observe that the vast majority of mothers who receive a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome choose abortion for reasons based on fear and a lack of knowledge about support.
Rep. Harrison’s HB 1058, now Louisiana law, hopes to soften the blow of a diagnosis that, for some, can be shocking.
Louisiana Right to Life was criticized during the legislative process by national pro-abortion organizations for using disability rights groups to promote “anti-choice” measures. But our efforts with Rep. Harrison’s bill helped highlight the discriminatory nature of the medical profession’s misguided role in promoting abortion as an option for dealing with children with limitations. The reality is that, upon hearing that their child will be “handicapped” with Down syndrome, nearly 9 out of 10 mothers choose to end their child’s life.
This statistic reveals a quietly approved form of eugenics when it comes to babies faced with a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome. A recent comment by Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins made in a response to a young woman who was wondering how to act upon discovering that her child would be born with Down syndrome highlights this evil. He said, “Abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have the choice.”
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Statements like this from “respectable” people like Dawkins send a sad message to parents and families all across our state and country. And when the media reports on the sharp decline in Down syndrome births throughout the United States, obviously exacerbated by the aggressive abortion rate, people become accustomed to the notion that Down syndrome babies should not be born.
And yet, stories and experiences of people with disabilities and of those who care daily and often times unconditionally for them offer a different view. In fact, three recent studies conducted by Boston’s Children’s Hospital surveyed 2,044 parents and guardians of children with Down syndrome. One report included the following results:
- 79% of parents and guardians reported that their outlook on life was “more positive,” specifically because of their child with Down syndrome;
- 97% of siblings of children with Down syndrome expressed pride for their brother or sister and also confessed that they were a better person because of their sibling.
Another study, focused on the feelings of adults with Down syndrome, found that 99 percent of those surveyed said they were happy with their lives. Such results give proof to the inspiring quote: “Life is the right of every child. Not a special privilege for the fortunate, the planned, and the perfect!”
In recent history our nation has witnessed a dramatic shift in societal attitudes toward individuals with disabilities that are born. In 1990, the Americans With Disabilities Act was passed. In this federal law, the U.S. Congress made the following finding: “Physical or mental disabilities in no way diminish a person’s right to fully participate in all aspects of society, yet many people with physical or mental disabilities have been precluded from doing so because of discrimination.”
The law begs the question, if people with mental and physical disabilities have the right to “fully participate in all aspects of society,” then shouldn’t children prenatally diagnosed with a disability or a genetic variation have the right to be born without the medical profession promoting a discriminatory solution of abortion? Such common sense, however, does not reach the minds of the many people who choose abortion to deal with the “biologically imperfect.
Harrison’s law provides a strong push to ensure that information offered to Louisiana parents of children with Down syndrome will offer them life-affirming stability in a time of shock, thereby showing them that abortion is not the answer. Still, there is much more work to be done. By educating our community on the beauty of children with Down syndrome, and the resources that exist to support their families, we can reverse a trend that is proving deadly for so many of our Louisiana special children.
LifeNews Note: Ryan Verret writes for Louisiana Right to Life.