The media recently dedicated a day to celebrating the lives of those with Down syndrome. But, at the same time, many of them overlooked the looming threat that those diagnosed with Down syndrome face: abortion.
It’s a threat that some in the media themselves are guilty of promoting.
Media celebrated World Down Syndrome Day on March 21 or 3/21, a date that symbolizes the three copies of chromosome 21 present in those with Down syndrome. Media figures from NBC News to USA Today recognized the event established by the United Nations.
To start the day off, NBC Today co-anchor Savannah Guthrie drew attention to the day on social media.
“Remembering my beloved Uncle Pierce and sending love and admiration to all those with Down Syndrome and the friends and family who support and adore them,” she tweeted along with a link to a republished NBC piece she wrote six years ago. It was a story about her uncle.
“Pierce Franklin Long, Jr. was born on July 5, 1933,” Guthrie wrote in 2013, in remembrance of her mother’s brother. “Because he was born so close to the Fourth of July, my grandmother used to call him, ‘my little firecracker.’” That was fitting, Guthrie said, because her uncle “always sparkled with life and personality, with humor and charm.”
She remembered his hobbies, his teasing, and also his love.
“When my father died suddenly, our family was shattered,” she recalled. “Sometimes, it was only Pierce’s simple kindness that could soften our grief. ‘I remember Charley,’ he would say. ‘I’ll say a prayer for him.’”
“I hope people will take the opportunity to get to know those with Down syndrome who are living, working and like my uncle did, flourishing in their families and communities,” she concluded.
Other stories surrounding the event included MSNBC and USA Today’s coverage of a “Man with Down syndrome honored for working 27 years at McDonald's.” NBC News published another story about how a “Dad's heartwarming twitter thread about daughter with Down Syndrome inspires thousands.” People magazine took note of Grey’s Anatomy actress Caterina Scorsone marking the day with an “adorable photo of daughter Paloma” who has Down syndrome.
For CBS News, social producer Sophie Lewis covered the event by reporting on a “fashion choice with a purpose.”
“In honor of the day, people around the world are sharing photos and videos of their mismatched socks using the hashtag #RockYourSocks,” she wrote. But, unlike the other outlets, she pointed to the threat of abortion for those diagnosed in the womb with Down syndrome – without saying the word “abortion.”
“In 2017, CBS News' Elaine Quijano traveled to Iceland to explore how the widespread use of genetic testing there has resulted in a steep decline in the number of babies being born with Down syndrome,” Lewis wrote. “Some are troubled by a society that can ‘pick and choose’ which children get born.”
Inside Lewis’ story, CBS recommended links to similar stories, including one centered on Quijano’s report. The headline read “Inside the country where Down syndrome is disappearing.”
The problem is, Down syndrome isn’t disappearing in Iceland. Unborn babies diagnosed with it are.
The states are fighting against that mentality. According to the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List, five states “have enacted legislation to prohibit the eugenic practice of Down syndrome discrimination abortion.” Indiana, Ohio, North Dakota, Louisiana, and Kentucky have all passed laws in just the last three years. Other states have introduced similar legislation, including Arkansas, Illinois, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Utah.
Still, there are voices that support abortion based on a Down syndrome diagnosis – and media outlets to publish them. In December, NBC News’ opinion section made waves for publishing a piece with the headline reading, “My daughter has Down syndrome. The anti-abortion movement is using her to restrict both of our reproductive rights.”
Inside, writer Holly Christensen pointed to legislation in her home state of Ohio.
“I oppose bills like these because they do nothing to improve the lives of people like my daughter,” she wrote. “Instead they use children like mine to chip away at my reproductive rights — and hers.”
Those bills may not improve the life of her daughter, but they do ensure the life of her daughter. And that life, as the media acknowledged on World Down Syndrome day, is worth living.