As the Supreme Court is being asked to consider a law that would ban abortions based solely on a diagnosis of Down syndrome, one mother of a child with Down syndrome argued in an NBC op-ed Tuesday that such abortions were sometimes justified.
Holly Christensen, whose daughter has the condition, argued that some parents should be able to abort their children with Down syndrome because caring for such children properly can be expensive.
“Physical, occupational and speech therapies started in infancy propel children to earlier and greater successes in mobility, speech and cognition,” she wrote. “My daughter started these essential therapies in her first weeks of life — but only because I can afford both the money and the time required. But when I think about these anti-abortion bills, I imagine the parent who takes public transportation to her two part-time jobs. How is her child going to receive early interventions to lead his best possible life as an adult?”
“If Ohio's Down syndrome abortion ban is upheld,” she said, “babies born with Down syndrome to mothers of modest means (some of whom might have chosen other futures for themselves) will continue to have limited time and resources to help their children reach their full potential.”
Her op-ed is just the latest in a string of op-eds by both parents of children with Down syndrome and others who feel that a diagnosis of the condition justifies abortion for some women who cannot handle the financial and emotional hardship of it.
However, many parents of children with Down syndrome and many of those living with the condition find this argument offensive and harmful.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), who has a son with Down syndrome, gave Townhall her response to Christensen’s op-ed.
“The value of human life is a timeless principle we must always cherish,” she emphasized. “Becoming a parent and having a child is overwhelming no matter who you are.”
“You never know what challenges are ahead even if your child isn’t born with Down syndrome,” she pointed out. “But just because something is tough doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable or worthy of our protection.”
She said that her son, Cole, gave her “a whole new passion and purpose to be an ability advocate and empower every person to reach their full potential.”
“People with Down syndrome are living lives full of possibility and potential, and it’s their abilities that we should be focused on,” she added. “As warriors of human dignity and human value, we should be celebrating all that they have to offer.”
Karen Gaffney, the first person with Down syndrome to swim the English channel and a disability rights activist, spoke in Pennsylvania in March in support of a Down syndrome abortion ban.
“We face the possibility of wiping out the tremendous progress we have made in the last sixty years," she said, "just as we are making so much progress a whole industry has grown up focused on prenatal screening, screening that would end our lives before we take our first breath.”
Frank Stephens, an actor, advocate, and adult living with Down Syndrome, warned Congress in October about the high abortion rates for those with the condition.
“We are the canary in the eugenics coal mine,” he said. “We are giving the world a chance to think about the ethics of choosing which humans get a chance at life.”
In her op-ed, Christensen also argued that abortion bans come from the “anti-reproductive rights movement” who “solely focus their attention on passing laws to restrict women's choices in the name of people with Down syndrome.” She claimed that groups opposed to abortion do nothing to improve the quality of life for people like her daughter or to distribute “accurate, up-to-date information to patients whose fetus or newborn is diagnosed with Down syndrome.”
Contrary to Christensen’s claim, Rep. McMorris Rodgers doesn’t just talk about supporting unborn children with Down syndrome, she has fought to pass legislation to improve the lives of children living with Down syndrome and other disabilities.
Recently, she worked to include provisions of her “ABLE 2.0” legislative package to become law as part of the GOP tax reform bill. These provisions allow families to roll over funds from a 529 college saving account to an ABLE account for medical bills and other living expenses. Her ABLE to Work Act helps those with disabilities save more of their own money and explore the workforce.
In response to a March op-ed in The Washington Post that argued that women “need” the right to abort children with Down syndrome, McMorris Rodgers also started an inspiring Twitter moment that debunked misinformation about the quality of life of those with the condition.
An analysis of the work of pro-life organizations in general reveals that they champion providing information about the condition to parents after a prenatal diagnosis and also support organizations focused on improving the quality of life for children with Down syndrome.
Jeanne Mancini, President of the March for Life, told Townhall that her group supports organizations that work to help children with Down syndrome.
“Wonderful organizations such as the Lejeune Foundation (named for its founder, Jerome Lejeune, who discovered the extra chromosome in Down Syndrome), Reece’s Rainbow, Jack’s Baskets, Hope Story and countless others have the mission of treatment, support, adoption, etc. for the child with Down Syndrome, and/or families who have a child with Down Syndrome,” she said.
“The March for Life proudly and ardently fights to protect the inherent dignity of every unborn child, including little ones in the womb who test positive for Down Syndrome,” she emphasized.
Mancini’s group is inviting Hope Story, a group that connects parents of children with Down syndrome with a support network, to join their 2019 conference.
The Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, did a comprehensive study on society’s reaction to Down syndrome that, in addition to supporting laws to protect unborn children with the condition, called for federal and state laws to be expanded to ensure that “balanced and accurate” information be “provided upon receiving a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome.” Their study also called for more federal research funding to help those with the condition.
David Lejeune, president of the Jerome Lejeune Foundation USA, told Townhall that while abortion for those with Down syndrome is a “tragic discussion” going on in the U.S., it’s important to remember that maintaining a pro-life stance and working to improve the quality of life for those with Down syndrome are not “mutually exclusive.”
“A Down syndrome diagnosis can be unwanted news, bringing pain and fear for the future,” he said. “A woman carrying an unborn child with Down syndrome is often given worst-case scenarios about her child’s future quality of life and pressured to abort. However, caring for children with Down syndrome and advocating for the rights of the unborn are not mutually exclusive.”
He pointed out that his organization helps those with the condition and defends the unborn as they carry on the work of famed French geneticist Jerome Lejeune who discovered the extra chromosome causing the condition. The group is working to open the first U.S. hospital for those with the condition by 2020.
“We can, and should, do both,” he said. “That is exactly the mission of Jerome Lejeune Foundation – to provide advocacy, care and support for families of those with Down syndrome, many of whom are mothers of modest means.”
“A woman who decides to parent her child with Down syndrome makes a challenging but rewarding choice,” he said. “Others decide that a child with Down syndrome will require more than they are willing or able to provide. The choice they face is also challenging… but this choice does not have to be one of life and death.”
Lejeune highlighted the option of adoption for these women which, he argued, is too often overlooked.
“Many women make an adoption plan to give their child the best chance at life,” he said. “By doing so, they not only give their child the right to life – and a chance to reach their full potential – but their choice enriches the real lives of adoptive families. This is a choice too readily overlooked by pro-abortion proponents.”
A point that Christensen’s op-ed does not address at all is the reason for the Ohio and Indiana laws attempting to ban abortions based on a diagnosis of Down syndrome. The bans are responding to the alarmingly high rate of abortion worldwide for those with the condition.
A CBS report last year found a near 100 percent abortion rate for those diagnosed with the condition in Iceland. Denmark has a 98 percent abortion rate following screening and diagnosis of the condition and in France the number is 77 percent.
According to CBS, the United States already has an estimated abortion rate of 67 percent (1995-2011) for unborn babies diagnosed with Down syndrome.
These numbers caused one human rights group to appeal to the United Nations, calling the high abortion rates a “contemporary form of eugenics and racism.”