So why are so many of them being aborted?
It is a curious and heart-wrenching question because there never has been a better time in all of history for people with Down syndrome.
Thanks to modern medicine, they are living decades longer than they used to. And thanks to better social support and acceptance, some are becoming actors and models, business owners and lobbyists; some graduate from college and others get married. In 2018, a little boy from Georgia even became the first Gerber Baby with Down syndrome.
Questioning the high abortion rates (up to 100 percent) for babies with Down syndrome, Hannah Howard, M.S., a research associate at the Charlotte Lozier Institute, pointed out that most people with Down syndrome say they are happy to be alive.
Writing at The Federalist, Howard pointed to a 2013 study by the National Institutes of Health that “shattered decades-old stigmas and brought to light much-needed facts” about people with Down syndrome.
The researchers found that “the overwhelming majority of people with [Down syndrome] (nearly 99 percent) are happy with their lives.” Additionally, 97 percent said they like who they are and 96 percent said they like how they look.
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“The majority of people with DS feel they can easily make friends (86 percent),” the study found. “The overwhelming majority of people with DS love their families (99 percent), including their brothers and sisters (97 percent).”
In the past 50 years, people with Down syndrome also have benefited greatly from “improved access to medical care, such as surgical intervention for congenital heart defects,” according to Howard’s research.
As a result, their life expectancy has improved by decades.
“The life expectancy of people with Down syndrome increased dramatically between 1960 and 2007,” according to the Centers for Disease Control. “In 1960, on average, persons with Down syndrome lived to be about 10 years old. In 2007, on average, persons with Down syndrome lived to be about 47 years old.”
These numbers only are meaningful for the people with Down syndrome who are born. Far too many – and in growing numbers, it appears – are being aborted.
The abortion rates for unborn babies with Down syndrome are extremely high. Several years ago, a CBS News report shocked the nation with its exposure of the discriminatory trend. According to the report, nearly 100 percent of unborn babies who test positive for Down syndrome are aborted in Iceland. The rate in France was 77 percent in 2015, 90 percent in the UK and 67 percent in the United States.
In November, The Atlantic also published a lengthy piece discussing the troubling fact that 95 percent of unborn babies diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted in Denmark.
Interestingly, concerns about medical costs do not appear to be a major factor in these families’ abortion decisions because many of the countries with high abortion rates have universal health care.
The deadly discrimination is getting worse with advances in prenatal testing. The Telegraph reports a recent article in the “European Journal of Human Genetics” found that the number of babies with Down syndrome born in the United Kingdom dropped 54 percent since the non-invasive prenatal screening tests became available about a decade ago.
Bias in the medical community also appears to be a factor. A recent study highlighted in Scientific American found evidence that families of children with Down syndrome often face negative, biased counseling and pressure to have abortions.
One mom recently told the BBC that she was pressured to abort her unborn daughter 15 times, including right up to the time of her baby’s birth. In another case, a mother from Brooklyn, New York said doctors tried to convince her to abort her unborn son for weeks before they took no for an answer. They both chose life but many others do not.
People with Down syndrome are happy and thriving – and more could be — if only doctors, genetic counselors, parents and society would give them a chance.