It is especially disturbing and insulting to pro-choice women with children who were prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome to read mean remarks from pro-life activists who assert that pregnant women who are pro-choice always choose to terminate pregnancies after a prenatal diagnosis.
Because the statistics show that 90% of women who receive a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome do terminate the pregnancy, it's obvious that pro-life couples do make that choice, too.
Moms of children with Down syndrome are caught in the middle of many awful arguments, whether it is with a pro-choice person who suggest that 'in some cases' a certain choice should be suggested or demanded by society, or a pro-life person who shares that 'in some cases' they understand or forgive a pregnant woman who has an abortion.
And then there are those staunch 'pro-life' folks who suggest that women who have a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome carry the baby to term so that the child can be placed for adoption. The general attitude that it takes a 'special' person to raise a child with Down syndrome gives me an image in my mind of pro-life Republicans carrying their prenatally diagnosed babies to term just to place them for adoption by pro-choice democrats. Just a quirk, I know.
But who are these 'special' people? Most parents I know who are raising a son or daughter with Down syndrome are ordinary ~ and most children with Down syndrome I've met are fairly ordinary, too. That doesn't mean it's easy to raise a child with Down syndrome - it's not easy to raise any child, and kids with Down syndrome are more like their mainstream peers (and siblings) than they are different.
If people who are aggessively pro-life and those who are aggressively pro-choice were more supportive of children (and adults) with Down syndrome who are growing up in neighborhoods throughout the USA, I would believe that they were truly pro-life or pro-choice.
It's frustrating to have discussions with those who lecture about pro-life beliefs that disappear when a child is actually born, but it's creepy when they assign moral superiority to a woman who happens to choose to continue a pregnancy that brings a child with Down syndrome into the world. Why should that be such a big deal?
I feel it is an insult to my son to suggest that I have some greater calling just because I think he is a great asset to our family. And it's an insult to his sister that I would be seen as just an ordinary mom if her brother had not been born with Down syndrome.
Another area of discussion closely related to the debate going on now is prenatal testing. Prenatal testing is as common among conservative pro-life folks as it is among liberal pro-choice couples. An advocacy organization in the U.K. recently opened a discussion on the ethics of genetic testing for Down syndrome
- see a story at http://www.news-medical.net/?id=41526
for insight into the Down Syndrome Research and Practice
editorial Wrongful Death and Rightful Lives
I believe that pro-life advocates should be addressing these issues, and pro-choice advocates should be aware of them, too. Useful though screening undoubtedly is, it also poses risks to babies who do not have Down syndrome and the new analysis estimates that screening leads to the deaths of 400 babies who do not have Down syndrome annually, in England and Wales alone.
The charity Down Syndrome Education International says births of babies with Down syndrome have risen 25% in 15 years in England and Frank Buckley, the charity's Chief Executive and co-author of the report, says at the same time, life expectancy and quality of life continue to improve.
Mr Buckley says over 600,000 people with Down syndrome are living across Europe and North America and maybe 4 million worldwide and he believes while there is still much more to do, people with Down syndrome are achieving more thanks to better healthcare, better opportunities and more effective teaching approaches.
However despite these positives, government policy requires that genetic screening is offered to all pregnant women, posing risks to up to 700,000 pregnancies each year.
Around 95% of all 'positive' screening results are wrong but women who receive these results are encouraged to consider invasive tests and as a result between 1 in 100 and 1 in 50 pregnancies tested in this way are miscarried as a result of the tests.
There are many, many 'pro-choice' women raising wonderful sons and daughters who have Down syndrome who are challenging the assumptions of aggressively 'pro-life' activists and deserve the support and encouragement of others who are defending each woman's right to make choices about her own body and life. There are also many 'pro-life' women who have very firm beliefs but who must be thankful that they and their daughters have the right to make choices, too.
Please keep in mind that families of children and adults with Down syndrome, and people with Down syndrome who read and have opinions themselves, are sometimes caught in the middle of the most unpleasant discussions. We could use a little more compassion and tenderness from both sides.
SE of Seattle