British mother Natalie O’Rourke urged families not to give into fear or pressure to abort their unborn babies after a Down syndrome diagnosis, saying her son Woody’s life is full of joy.
Appearing Tuesday on the British talk show This Morning, O’Rourke said Woody was diagnosed with Down syndrome before he was born, and doctors pressured her repeatedly to have an abortion, according to The Metro. But she refused.
Now 10 years old, Woody “enhances anybody’s life that he meets,” his mother told the hosts. “If you could measure joy, it would be off the scale.”
But the pressure she faced to abort him was intense. Discrimination against unborn babies with Down syndrome and other disabilities has become prevalent in the medical community, and extermination via abortion is often is offered and sometimes coerced.
O’Rourke said she felt “sickened” by the way doctors treated Woody before he was born, the report continues.
“In their eyes, he was going to be a drain on society and his life would have no value – but actually he is a life enhancer,” she said.
One provider even scheduled an abortion without asking her.
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One day, O’Rourke said she received a call from an unknown number and the receptionist asked her to confirm her appointment for the next day. When she replied that she did not have an appointment, she said she learned that a doctor had scheduled an abortion appointment for her.
O’Rourke told the woman to cancel the appointment, but the woman pressured her to keep it, saying: “’No, no. You might change your mind,’” she remembered.
She expressed concern for other families who also may feel coerced into aborting their children.
“My worry is that I’m quite strong-minded,” she told This Morning. “I’d already had [my daughter] Alice and if I had been a first-time mum I might have thought that I’d have to go along with that. I might have not realized there was a choice.”
The British mother said she shares her family’s story because she wants parents to understand that children with Down syndrome are a blessing.
“I really hope that a decade later things are changing, but I just really like to get a strong message out there today and say, ‘Don’t be afraid of Down’s syndrome, there’s so much love and support and kindness out there,’” she said.
Many families like the O’Rourkes are raising awareness and working to change the wide-spread discrimination against children with disabilities, including in the medical community. One of the ways they do so is through World Down Syndrome Day on Tuesday, March 21.
According to ABC News Australia, a recent study by Down Syndrome Australia found that “half of new parents faced discrimination and neglect from medical professionals during and after prenatal screenings.” One family told the news outlet that their doctor scheduled an abortion before even telling them that their unborn baby had Down syndrome.
Another mother from Scotland told the Daily Record that she was offered an abortion at 37 weeks of pregnancy, almost full term, because her son has Down syndrome. And British mother Emma Mellor told the BBC that she was pressured to abort her unborn daughter 15 times, including right up to the moment of her baby’s birth.
At the same time, people with Down syndrome are living longer, healthier and fuller lives than ever before because of modern medical advances and better support services for people with special needs. Some even attend college, work regular jobs and get married. Earlier this month, actor James Martin became the first person with Down syndrome to win an Academy Award.