Every year the March for Life chooses what it believes to be one of the most pressing issues of our time for the pro-life movement as its annual theme. We do so simply because an event with such a reach –hundreds of thousands of passionate pro-lifers travel to Washington, D.C. annually to participate – offers the perfect educational opportunity to provide tools to motivated people that can ultimately impact a culture of life. This year our theme is “Every Life is a Gift.”
For every 1000 live births in the United States, 228 babies are aborted, according to the latest data in 2010 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That means that approximately 19 percent, or about one out of every five babies in the U.S. is aborted annually. For certain populations of developing babies, the statistic is even more staggering. To be clear, the March for Life fights for the right to life for every little one not yet born. We believe that any abortion is one too many. But the truth of the matter is that certain groups have a significantly less likelihood of being carried to term by their mother.
An increasing number of physicians are advising families to abort babies diagnosed with what has become known collectively as a “poor prenatal diagnosis.” Such conditions include Down Syndrome, Trisomy 18, Trisomy 13, Anencephaly, Spina Bifida, and others. A number of studies have shown that preborn babies with disabilities are aborted at rates from 60 percent to as high as 90 percent.
In many cases when a parent receives a poor prenatal diagnosis there is an understandable fear about the quality of life for their child and family, and this is often considered a major reason to abort. There is an underlying sense that if a life is not normal or perfect or it is somehow different than what one anticipated, it is not a happy, fulfilling or even worthwhile life.
The reality is that this just is not the case! We hopefully know this intuitively but there is excellent recent research to support this as well. An October 2011 survey study related to Down Syndrome and Quality of Life conducted by a Harvard researcher revealed that 99 percent of parents with a child with Down Syndrome love their child; 97 percent of these parents were proud of their child with Down Syndrome; 79 percent of such parents felt that their outlook on life was more positive because of their child with Down Syndrome. In terms of siblings’ feelings about Down Syndrome and how such a diagnosis impacted their family, 94 percent of older siblings expressed feelings of pride towards their siblings with Down Syndrome; 88 percent expressed feelings that they were better people because of their siblings with DS. Last, 99 percent of individuals with DS said they were happy with their lives and 97 percent liked who they are!
Prenatal testing plays a critical role in this discussion. In October, 2012, MaterniT21, a new, more accurate prenatal test, became available, with its ability to detect fetal DNA as early as 10 weeks. Less invasive and slightly more accurate than amniocentesis which is done at 14 weeks, it has been somewhat of a “game changer”. And while having more information is often a positive, without appropriate support and good pro-life genetic counseling, it is likely that the new test will contribute to a much higher abortion rate for little ones with a disability.
As we approach the 2015 March for Life, we are excited to more fully explore how every life is a gift.
Monahan is president of March for Life.