It was the annual “Summerfest” in a community about 60 miles west of Chicago. We were expecting rides and cotton candy, but were greeted instead by tractors and a pork chop dinner. The crowd was populated by just plain folks—old and young, enjoying the easy camaraderie of small town life. One family stood out. It was a mom and dad with a boy about eight I’ll call “Johnny.”
We had come to see a Chicago band, awkwardly positioned on a flatbed truck, who didn’t disappoint. They delivered great Chicago-style blues and rock, but as great as they were, they were promptly upstaged by Johnny. As the band started, he bolted to the grassy area before the stage and began to dance deliciously. He didn’t just have one “move,” he had lots of them with finger strategically pointed, and attitude enough for the whole band. As the singer jumped off the stage, Johnny would follow, imitating him playing harmonica and clutching his cordless mic as he serenaded a select few. When he finished a set and took a bow, Johnny took his too … deeply, like a shadow on the lawn. The crowd roared and I was especially delighted when he came to serenade me with his imaginary microphone. I wanted to grab and hug him, but he would have none of it.
I looked down the row to see his parents standing silently, not with wild cheering but with wonder, amazement and … pride. You see, Johnny has Down syndrome. It was a moment parents of special needs kids seldom get to enjoy.
It struck me in that moment that nearly 90 percent of babies born with Down syndrome are now aborted. Most Johnnys never get the chance to delight a crowd or bring deep, abiding joy to their parents—because they never get a chance to live.
It was a Down syndrome baby that nurse Jill Stanek cradled until death at Christ Hospital in Oak Lawn, Illinois, denied of food or medical treatment. Another imperfect baby, unwanted by its parents, starved out of existence.
When legislation to prevent such callousness and neglect sprang to life as a result of Stanek’s story, Barack Obama spoke out against the Born Alive Infant Protection Act. He argued that it was unfair to the mothers to let these babies live—that it would turn back abortion rights (as though infanticide and abortion were in the same legal ballpark). He voted against the legislation and tried to persuade others in the Illinois legislature to follow his lead. On the issue of abortion, he later publicly declared that he wouldn’t want his daughters “punished with a baby,” should they find themselves pregnant and unmarried. With that perspective Obama would surely find a Down syndrome baby beyond punishment.
It’s not the only time in human history when something like this has happened.