Should we do more to encourage women to keep Down syndrome babies?

When I was growing up, seeing people with Down syndrome was common, and as a Special Olympics volunteer I was touched by how much they loved life. But today, at least 90 percent of women expecting a Down syndrome baby get an abortion, according to journals such as the American Journal of Medical Genetics. As in-utero screening has advanced, terminating Down syndrome pregnancies has become almost expected.

But should it be? Or are we as families and a society losing something important if we become a nation of more and more perfect people, preventing those with even the most livable disabilities from being born? As we get further away from recognizing that everyone is precious no matter their handicaps, we become less compassionate and accommodating toward those who are imperfect. And that makes it harder and harder parents to visualize how they could possibly navigate life with a Down syndrome child.

Forty years ago, that was easy to visualize. And those parents discovered that the loving, happy nature of most Down syndrome children was not a burden but a joy – to the family and society. Today, we need to get back to encouraging and supporting more women in keeping those babies – with everything from tax breaks to easier access to special services. Women should never be made to feel like they do today: that they really have no other choice but to terminate the pregnancy, simply because they can’t fathom how to move forward.

When Diana Lawler, a mom I know, discovered one child would be a Down syndrome son, she and her husband also adopted a Down syndrome daughter. She believes we should better encourage Down syndrome parents, saying “These kids have added so much to our family. My husband says God makes angels out of that extra chromosome. My other children get frustrated with them, sure. But I feel like in their lives this will be a plus; my son and daughter will never perform like other people, but my other kids love them unconditionally. It makes me sad that we are removing this element from our society. Down syndrome is an easy disability, comparatively, and the kids are so loving. They will teach you so much more than a ‘normal’ child.”

Should we do more to encourage women to keep Down syndrome babies?

My friend Susan brought it up during a coffee break at the center where we trained developmentally disabled adults. She said to me, “It would make sense for us to wind up with Down syndrome children someday. We’d know what to do.”

I was startled, but thought: Susan might be right, given what we did for a living. Of course, life doesn’t work that way, and other mothers have those babies, those challenges.

I understand Shaunti’s fervent anti-abortion stance, yet her odd combo platter of tax breaks and increased special programs wouldn’t affect the decision-making of any distraught, pregnant woman. And if you agree with her that raising a Down syndrome (DS) child to adulthood was easier to “visualize” 40 years ago, I’d like to buy you a time machine.

Throughout my 20s, I worked with developmentally disabled adults. Many had been shuttered away their whole childhoods or been warehoused alongside mentally ill patients, still burdened with behaviors that were learned from those peers. When I began this work in 1983, the median age of death among DS people was 25 years old. Before 1975, only one of every five children with a significant disability was even educated in our school system.

The truth is, the best argument for raising a Down syndrome child is all around us, right now. How far we’ve come, placing disabled kids in most mainstream educational environments, from Brownie troops to your average high school. It’s now standard issue to see a DS adult helping out at your local grocery or hospital. And while it is true that in-utero screening has increased terminations, Down syndrome is hardly being eradicated. The most recent CDC study points out that the number of DS babies born in the U.S. actually rose from 1,676 in 1996 to 2,085 in 2006, and other studies put the annual birthrate at much higher numbers.

So why are many women terminating these pregnancies? Perhaps it’s because life hands us so many unexpected difficulties, few want to take on the expected ones. Whatever the reason, I am only sure of this: deciding to keep or terminate a pregnancy is often a difficult choice. It is a choice that should be preserved.

159 comments Add your comment


April 11th, 2009
7:31 pm

“Thou shalt not Kill”…God

either you worship God, or you begin to think you ARE one, and that it’s okay to murder.
40 years is right: that’s how long it’s taken for this country to go completely down the tubes about human life.
I grew up around retarded people, and never once thought they should be put down like a dog. You social liberals have destroyed this country.
What right do YOU have to impose YOUR morality, if I can use that word, on this country, but yet you have done it, one idiot ruling after another? I hope you are truly happy when YOU are the ones they come after, as unfit to live, and we ALL will get to that point. Then you will meet up with the Creator who will let you know how important life and choices are, which you have squandered recklessly all in the name of “freedom”….


April 9th, 2009
4:39 pm

Obama is probably practicing his bow to the pirates right now.


April 9th, 2009
1:54 pm

The board is unusually quiet. Is it usually this quiet around Easter? Everyone on Spring break?


April 9th, 2009
1:52 pm

Obviously, since it was Obama’s fault the market went down, it is his fault we are seeing gains recently. I can’t say I like the leader about Obama recommending people refinance mortgages. There is a lot to consider when doing that. Lenders stand to make a lot of money from the unwary.


April 9th, 2009
11:56 am

okay, whoever needs a funny read, I give you the Gene Pool from the WaPo:

If you’ve been following the extraordinary story of the U.S. sailors who re-took their ship from Somali pirates, you’ve been treated to an amazling tale of excitement and adventure. But if you’ve been reading the Reader Comments to the story, you learned what this is REALLY about: Barack Obama! And it’s not good! Because he’s an anti-American wimp, or something! Or maybe pro-pirate! Either he made this happen, or he’s sorry it happened, or he’s about to apologize to the pirates, or something.

The question today is: What other bad stuff is Obama secretly responsible for, and why?

the comments are a laugh-flippin’-riot …


April 9th, 2009
11:39 am

Happy people are more productive people.

amen to that! I’m shocked that your company makes you guys work the day after t-giving … that’s just WRONG. the day after is for 1 thing and 1 thing only – LEFTOVERS!!! (there is just not enough money on the planet that would get me to a mall on Black Friday)


April 9th, 2009
11:12 am

Hmm, well four of those holidays are not on my company’s list. The day after Thanksgiving incurs serious morale issues every year. Really, they wwould not lose that much money if they made it a holiday and staff would be a lot happier. Managers always take the day off anyway. Outlying facilities close. And anyone who actually has to work, does nothing and leaves early. It would really cost not a lot more than the easing of the dress code to allow jeans. Happy people are more productive people.

But ok, UK does not get more holidays – just more vacation.


April 9th, 2009
10:11 am

Gale –

“USinUK, you just had to remind us what a paultry few holidays we get in the US, didn’t you?”

no-no-no!!! the US has more total days AND spreads them out throughout the year … the UK just front-loads them (2 days for Easter, then May Day and the May Bank Holiday on the 25th … then nothing until August … then nothing until Christmas, but then we get 2 days)

this is an issue where I think the US has it all over the UK – while we get a longer time around Easter and Cmas here in England, the US spreads their holidays throughout the year and has more (even though not all businesses shut on them) – MLK, President’s Day, Memorial Day, July 4, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Thanksgiving (2 days), Christmas.


April 9th, 2009
9:46 am

:sigh: Once again my new keyboard tripped my fingers into closing the browser in the middle of a post.

USinUK, you just had to remind us what a paultry few holidays we get in the US, didn’t you? I understand removing the religious holidays, but it would have been good if they had been replaced with something else. Maybe baseball starting day. National sport and all that.