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Down Syndrome Awareness Day: Every life is a gift

Today, Saturday, March 21, marks the wonderful “World Down Syndrome Awareness Day.” Just a few months ago at the annual national March for Life in Washington DC, we chose the theme “Every Life is a Gift” in particular to bring attention to the critical topic of the disproportionate number of babies with Down Syndrome who are not carried to term every year: a startling 85 percent according to the latest research. Any abortion is one too many, but it can be accurately stated in the United States that we are literally doing away with an entire population of beautiful, unique human lives, people that make a meaningful contribution to our world. 

Why is the abortion rate so high for babies with Down Syndrome?  Often the reasons for such a high termination rate is that parents believe that having a member of the family with a serious disability translates into lives that will not be fulfilled or happy. Interestingly, studies do not support this theory but in fact show the opposite to be the case.  Dr. Brian Skotko, a Harvard-trained MD and researcher, published a survey in 2011, “Self-Perceptions From People With Down Syndrome.” His research showed that people with Down syndrome rank high in terms of levels of satisfaction with their lives and in relations with family members. Additionally, similar research suggests that family members of people with Down Syndrome also self-rank high in levels of happiness and fulfillment. 

{mosads}Sadly, it is also the case that parents receive information about a prenatal diagnosis indicating Down Syndrome from the medical community as though it is a death sentence rather than the unique call and opportunity that it really is, brimming with hope, alongside some hardships, too. A medical student recently relayed an anecdote  about a professor who told the medical students in class  that they had the “responsibility” to encourage parents to abort babies who receive this particular prenatal diagnosis. When this student raised concern and disagreed with the premise, he was mocked by the teacher.  The pressure from the medical community to abort these special little ones is real, albeit wrong, evil and ironically counter to the purpose of medicine, which is about healing and wholeness. 

What parents really need most in this moment is support, encouragement, and facts. Thankfully, some groups are working to support parents who receive a surprise prenatal diagnosis. At our March for Life Conference and Expo this year, we were excited to hear from Carissa Carroll, who began the organization “Jack’s Baskets.” Visit our website and blog to see a picture of Carissa’s adorable little son Jack, who was the inspiration for the organization which celebrates every child born with Down Syndrome by congratulating the family with gifts, support, and resources.  

Interestingly, 2015 year is also the 25th anniversary of the Americans With Disability Act, which allows for disabled Americans to live much fuller lives than years ago. There is a sad irony that those with disability can flourish as never before but so many are never able to be born. Let’s also allow the little ones in the womb the most basic right, to live and then fully enjoy those protections.

Monahan is president of the March For Life Education and Defense Fund.

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