“My life matters.”
That’s how Missourians with Down syndrome responded this week as a federal court considers whether states may protect unborn babies with disabilities from discrimination.
Several Missouri families shared their stories in a video produced by Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s Office as it defends a 2019 pro-life law at the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. Among other things, the law prohibits discriminatory abortions on unborn babies based on a Down syndrome diagnosis, their sex or race. Planned Parenthood is challenging the law.
One parent, Edward Lyons said the moment that they learned their son James had Down syndrome was one of the hardest of his life. At first, Lyons said they were devastated, but now they have a totally different perspective about James’s life.
“If I had known on that day how much joy and how much goodness he has brought to our family and to our lives, I wouldn’t have spent a moment in sadness because nobody loves life more than this guy,” he said.
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Lyons said everyone is in trouble when society values people by their IQs and abilities, rather than as unique human beings.
Unborn babies with Down syndrome and other disabilities are targeted for abortions at extremely high rates. In some countries, abortion rates after a prenatal diagnosis are as high as 100 percent, and many parents feel pressured by doctors and genetic counselors to abort their unborn babies.
Stacey, the mother of 3-year-old Katherine, is one of them.
In the video, she said she received a call at work one day about the results of a prenatal blood test. Stacey said the test detected a high risk of Down syndrome in her unborn daughter, and her doctor asked if she wanted to “terminate” her pregnancy. Stacey refused.
“I prayed for this baby. God blessed me with this baby and if God’s going to bless me with a baby with Down syndrome, so be it,” she said. “By terminating a pregnancy just on the basis of Down syndrome, you’re missing out on a whole level of love and a whole- you’re just missing out!”
The Missouri law would protect unborn babies and their families from this type of discrimination. However, a federal court recently blocked the state from enforcing it, and Planned Parenthood is fighting in court to have the law completely struck down.
Schmitt, whose son has a disability and is non-verbal, has been a strong advocate for the pro-life law.
“This is modern-day eugenics,” Schmitt said Tuesday after a hearing on the case. “I mean this is discriminating to the most extreme level, the elimination of an entire class of people, because of a trait, because of their diagnosis, and I just fundamentally believe that is not who we are as a country and that’s to me what this fight is about.”
After an Eighth Circuit panel ruling in June, Schmitt filed a petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the law and resolve a circuit court split about whether states may prohibit eugenic abortions that discriminate against unborn babies because of certain traits, such as Down syndrome.
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a similar law in Ohio in April, but the Eighth Circuit ruled against another Down syndrome abortion ban in Arkansas in January. The Seventh Circuit also ruled against another Indiana law in 2018.
“Unborn children with Down syndrome are aborted at epidemic rates,” Schmitt told the Supreme Court. “In the face of this genocidal crisis, Missouri and at least 11 other states have enacted laws restricting the eugenic abortion of the disabled, especially those with Down syndrome. In 2019, this Court declined to review the Seventh Circuit’s decision invalidating one of these laws—Indiana’s—because no circuit split yet existed. Since then, a clear and well-developed split of authority has emerged.”
According to state health statistics, 1,471 abortions were done in 2019 in Missouri. It is not clear how many were done because of Down syndrome.