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Unborn Babies with Down Syndrome Are Being 'Left Behind'

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Editor's note: This column was co-authored by Marjorie Dannenfelser.

In 2011 the United Nations General Assembly officially declared March 21 to be World Down Syndrome Day (WDSD). The date, 3/21, represents the three copies of the 21st chromosome carried by people with Down syndrome – but the day represents so much more. It’s an opportunity to celebrate the value of every human being in our diverse world and educate about what it’s really like to live with Down syndrome.

The theme of this year’s WDSD is #LeaveNoOneBehind. Down Syndrome International explains, “The reality today is that prevailing negative attitudes, low expectations, discrimination and exclusion ensure that people with Down syndrome are left behind.” In many cases the negativity begins even before they are born.

Last year, CBS News reported that Iceland is “close to eradicating” Down syndrome since prenatal screening became available. What they really mean is that people with Down syndrome are being eradicated by selective abortion. Imagine the challenge of growing up “different” in a country where, on average, only one or two children like you are born each year.

Denmark is right behind Iceland with a 98 percent abortion rate for Down syndrome. In France it’s 77 percent.  In the United States as many as 67 percent of babies with Down syndrome are aborted.

This is an enormous, tragic loss for the whole world, and it is driven by fear. The first thing some parents hear when they find out their child has Down syndrome is “I’m sorry” and a list of things their child will not accomplish. The pressure to abort is not always subtle.

But these children are not something to be afraid of. They bring love and joy. People with Down syndrome break down stereotypes every day. They are models and chefs, musicians, athletes, and entrepreneurs. They are advocates and lobbyists who testify to Congress or go to the White House to meet the President. They have fulfilling jobs, busy social calendars, and loving marriages. They have their own unique voices and dreams for their future, and they never stop learningResearch shows 99 percent of people with Down syndrome are happy with their lives. Some have challenges and need help at times – but who doesn’t?

Momentum is growing to pass laws that protect unborn babies with Down syndrome from discrimination. Indiana, Ohio, North Dakota, Louisiana, Utah, and now Kentucky have passed prenatal antidiscrimination laws. Five more states have introduced bills.

Indiana’s law, HB 1337, passed by huge margins and was signed by then-Governor Mike Pence in 2016, but a ruling by judges on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has blocked it from taking effect.

Judge Frank Easterbrook dissented, arguing that if we can make exceptions in at-will employment laws to prevent discrimination, why can’t we do the same for abortion? “None of the Court’s abortion decisions holds that states are powerless to prevent abortions designed to choose the sex, race, and other attributes of children,” he wrote.

Last November, Susan B. Anthony List submitted a brief asking the Supreme Court to uphold Indiana’s law. The Court has never addressed the issue of discrimination abortions, for Down syndrome or other characteristics, so this important case could break new ground.

We hope the Court will see this is about the human rights and equality that are promised to every American. Thousands of children with Down syndrome depend on it. They are just as capable as anyone else of having wonderful lives, and it’s time to stop leaving them behind.

Katie Shaw, an Indianapolis native, has Down syndrome and is an active self-advocate who lobbied for the passage of H.B. 1337. She serves on the board of Down Syndrome Indiana.

Marjorie Dannenfelser is president of the national pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List.

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