Monica Rafie and Tracy Winsor

How can we stop more Down syndrome babies from being aborted?

Monica Rafie and Tracy Winsor
By Monica Rafie and Tracy Winsor

December 16, 2011 (HLIAmerica.org) - As word spread of a new non-invasive, highly accurate prenatal test for Down syndrome, MaterniT21, the headlines could hardly have been more sensationalistic: The End of Down Syndrome! Will We Cull Those with Down Syndrome? Are Kids with Down Syndrome on the Road to Extinction?

This mainstream response seems to suggest a terrible acknowledgment of what happens to babies diagnosed prenatally with Down syndrome. We have been “ending Down syndrome” for years, targeting atypical unborn children as we journey down a road that ensures a decreasing Down syndrome birth rate.

Just last week, a Time magazine article reported statistics pulled from a 2009 edition of the Archives of Disease in Childhood. As a result of more sophisticated prenatal screening, and with nine out of ten babies aborted following the prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome, the birth rate for these children has been dropping for decades, decreasing by 15% between 1989 and 2005. This is particularly shocking as the impact of increasing maternal age during the same period should have resulted in a 24% increase in the Down syndrome birth rate.

What makes MaterniT21 (and all the new non-invasive prenatal tests based upon maternal plasma DNA) different and foreseeably catastrophic is that it will draw in a larger percentage of pregnant women. Those who reject invasive testing because of associated risks are likely to consent to a non-invasive test.  Advocates for those with Down syndrome have braced for just that reality, predicting that the Down syndrome birth rate (roughly 1 in 700 now) will drop sharply once non-invasive tests such as MaterniT21 are more widely available.

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With an abortion rate that has consistently been around 90%, shouldn’t we also be asking ourselves why our best efforts at advocacy for those prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome have failed? And the related, and more important question, how can we improve our advocacy efforts?

Persons with Down syndrome and their families are blessed to have strong communities of support, both locally, and nationally, through such organizations as the National Down Syndrome Congress (NDSC), the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) and their local affiliates. These organizations have worked very hard for their constituents to gain access to education, employment, and healthcare opportunities as well as representation among those granted federal funds for medical research. They are to be commended for successful advocacy in these areas.

Over the years, NDSC and NDSS have offered multi-pronged, intelligent, and inspired efforts surrounding the issue of prenatal diagnosis. Both organizations have worked to improve the public profile of persons with Down syndrome using traditional and social media. They have addressed the discriminatory practice of targeted prenatal testing, produced positive, accurate, and updated information for parents experiencing a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome, disseminated materials aimed at improving the sensitivity and response of doctors, genetic counselors and other medical professionals. They have even organized local in-person outreach initiatives to offer peer support to parents at the time of diagnosis. None of these efforts, however, have been successful in bringing society at large to a fundamental shift, or tipping point, whereby babies diagnosed prenatally with Down syndrome are more likely to be carried to term and welcomed at birth by their parents.

The primary threat to the lives of persons with Down syndrome is no longer prenatal testing and diagnosis; nor is it ignorance, outdated information, lack of peer and professional support, nor even insensitive communication at the time of diagnosis. The primary threat to the lives of persons with Down syndrome is abortion. Yet, the major Down syndrome organizations are often unwilling to face that issue head on.

In 2008, NDSS and NDSC met with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American College of Medical Genetics, and National Society of Genetic Counselors, and in 2009 released a jointly-written document titled, “Toward Concurrence: Understanding Prenatal Screening and Diagnosis of Down Syndrome from the Health Professional and Advocacy Community Perspectives“. The document addresses a handful of “misconceptions” about the organizations and their practices. The collaborative statement acquitted medical professionals of any “eugenic” motives surrounding the use of prenatal screening and testing, and affirmed that genetic counselors do not engage in directive counseling. Of all the possible misconceptions to present, the single one brought forth by NDSC and NDSS is to dismiss any idea that they are “pro-life” organizations.

Dr. Brian Skotko, a Harvard educated Pediatric MD, Certified Geneticist, and specialist in Down Syndrome at Children’s Hospital Boston, Board Member of NDSS and NDSC, author of numerous articles and oft-cited research about families of persons with Down syndrome,  most recently wrote about the expected effect of non-invasive prenatal diagnosis in a USA Today column. With a statement that perfectly echoes the positions of the national Down syndrome organizations, Skotko clearly indicates that Down syndrome advocacy ends where expectant parents’ decision-making begins: “I care deeply that patients receive accurate, up-to-date, balanced information so they can make informed decisions. Yet, as a physician, I am not in the business of telling expectant couples what pregnancy decisions they should be making when their fetus has Down syndrome. That is their decision.”

Skotko continues, “But the decision no longer needs to be made in a vacuum, nor should it be made with lingering misperceptions that are still whispered in our society.” With an abortion rate close to 25% for all babies nationwide, and in some areas, as high as 46%, perhaps it is worth considering that it may not be lingering misconceptions that dispose parents toward a decision to abort after diagnosis. Perhaps instead, the abortion rate for Down syndrome is the natural consequence of a diseased culture, influenced by 40 years of abortion on demand. Perhaps most abort simply because they can.

There is a dawning sense that the problem is much more complex than lingering misconceptions. Advocate, attorney, and father, Mark Leach, in The Prenatal Testing Sham, argues that Down syndrome advocacy focused on informing expectant parents with accurate and up-to-date resources about raising a child with Down syndrome is at this point the only card left to play: “Absent some fundamental societal change, these offsetting resources are really the only chance we have to turn the tide of decisions following a prenatal diagnosis.” Leach may be correct in his argument, but there is little evidence to support the hope that these resources will to any significant degree affect the numbers of parents who would otherwise abort.

Renate Lindeman, President of the Nova Scotia Down Syndrome Society, and mother of two children with Down syndrome, in anticipation of the imminent release of non-invasive prenatal tests, writes in the Canadian Medical Association Journal article, “Take Down Syndrome Out of the Abortion Debate”: “The best way to create a society that embraces (genetic and other) differences is to educate and engage the public and to support individual choices, whatever they are.” There has been no shortage of support for individual choices for 40 years. Why then are we still discussing “the best way to create a society that embraces difference”?

If the future plays out as has the past, advocacy for the child with Down syndrome in the womb will, in fact, be the only card left to play. What’s missing in the otherwise comprehensive approach of the NDSC and the NDSS is the simple and confident assertion that abortion is not an appropriate parental response to the prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome. If the strongest, best advocacy refrains from articulating that even a fully-informed decision to abort a baby diagnosed with Down syndrome is a poor one, then who will make that argument?

If it is our goal to discover the best way to create a society that embraces (genetic and other) differences, can we even begin such an endeavor when we accept the idea that the unborn baby is so other, so different from us that they are not worthy of protection? Authentic and effective Down syndrome advocacy must begin by embracing and advocating specifically for the baby with Down syndrome in the womb. Until the Down syndrome advocacy organizations recognize this truth, the recurring headlines will continue to read, “The End of Down Syndrome!”

A blueprint for better disability advocacy can be discovered in the Pastoral Statement of U.S. Catholic Bishops on People with Disabilities. Its vision is rooted in justice and is hopeful that change can be acheived,  with no hint of resignation to the failure of individuals or the challenge of “contemporary circumstances”:

We look to the future with what we feel is a realistic optimism. The Church has a tradition of ministry to people with disabilities, and this tradition will fuel the stronger, more broadly based efforts called for by contemporary circumstances. We also have faith that our quest for justice, increasingly enlisted on the side of individuals with disabilities, will work powerfully in their behalf. No one would deny that every man, woman and child has the right to develop his or her potential to the fullest. With God’s help and our own determination, the day will come when that right is realized in the lives of all people with disabilities.

Monica Rafie and Tracy Winsor are founding partners in the work of Be Not Afraid Ministry, an outreach to parents grappling with prenatal diagnosis. Monica and Tracy are Contributing Writers for HLI America, an educational initiative of Human Life International. Their recent articles may be found at HLI America’s Truth and Charity Forum. This article first appeared at HLIAmerica.org

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A protester rallies against Hobby Lobby, protesting against the Supreme Court decision Dan Holm/Shutterstock
Dustin Siggins Dustin Siggins Follow Dustin

DNC chairwoman exhorts constituents to boycott local Hobby Lobby store

Dustin Siggins Dustin Siggins Follow Dustin
By Dustin Siggins

The Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision was nearly two months ago, but the issue as hot as ever, as was demonstrated yesterday when Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schulz, D-FL, urged constituents to boycott a Hobby Lobby store in her district.

In a press conference one lot away from the Hobby Lobby location in Davie, which opened in April, Wasserman-Schultz said that she wanted "people to know that this Hobby Lobby is here and they should vote with their purses and their pocketbooks, and women should not shop here."

"If you didn’t know this Hobby Lobby was here before, know it now and don’t shop here. They don’t deserve women’s business because they are the ones that all across the country have made it harder for women to get access to birth control,” she said.

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Wasserman-Schultz said that Hobby Lobby's corporate ownership "doesn’t support its employees" and "wants to be able to get in the personal business of their employees and make health care decisions and replace their own values, replace their employees’ health care decisions, with their values…."

She also criticized the Supreme Court's late June decision in favor of Hobby Lobby, which had sued the federal government over the Obama administration's HHS Mandate.

The Green family, which owns Hobby Lobby, say it violates their conscience to pay for coverage for the four abortifacients and potential abortifacients that the mandate required them to cover.

"The Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case was not only disappointing, it was dangerous," said the Democrat. "No boss should have the right to dictate and employee’s health decisions because [they] don’t belong in the bedrooms, doctor’s offices or pharmacies of their employees.

"A woman and her doctor know what’s best for their body. Not an insurance company. Not a politician. And certainly not a manager at a Hobby Lobby."

The Supreme Court's decision allowed closely held corporations to not fund coverage of contraception or abortion drugs and devices.

Wasserman-Schultz's office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Through a spokesperson, the Green family declined to comment about the Congresswoman's statements. 

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America is rejecting abortion because pro-lifers are having more children: study

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By Kirsten Anderson

According to a new Northwestern University study, American attitudes about abortion are trending more conservatively than other contentious social issues, a phenomenon the authors credit to the simple fact that pro-lifers have more kids.

“We find evidence that the abortion attitudes have lagged behind a liberalizing trend of other correlated attitudes,” the authors wrote. Using GSS data collected between 1977 and 2010, “We test[ed] the hypothesis that the comparatively high fertility of pro-life individuals has led to a more pro-life population.”

The authors wrote: “Support for abortion rights has turned flat after a period of increase following Roe v. Wade, and in recent years there are even indications of a reversal toward more restrictive attitudes. This U-turn is evinced particularly among younger cohorts, and is happening despite liberalizing trends in several ostensibly related issue domains.”

The authors speculated that the reason for the increase in pro-life attitudes among young people is that their parents had more children than their pro-abortion counterparts. When they examined the data, they found that pro-life individuals had, on average, 27 percent more children than those who considered themselves “pro-choice.”

Not only that, but pro-life parents appear to be much more likely to pass their views on to their children. The researchers found that the younger generation’s pro-life shift was too strong to be blamed solely on differences in fertility – meaning children of pro-abortion parents are rejecting their parents’ views.

“[E]ither pro-life beliefs are always more faithfully transmitted than pro-choice ones; or, there has been a cultural shift towards more pro-life beliefs that is being reflected in the parent-child correlations,” the authors wrote.

The study concluded that if it wasn’t for the higher fertility rate among pro-life people, the nation as a whole would favor abortion by about five percentage points more than it does currently – and researchers predict the pro-life trend will continue.

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“Taken together, these findings suggest that fertility has had at least some part in leading the population in a more pro-life direction over time,” the authors wrote. “Further investigation into this pattern indicates that not only are abortion attitudes associated with fertility, but in proportional terms—which is what matters for cultural change—the gap is widening.”

“Fertility has declined for both pro-choice and pro-life groups over the past 30 years, but fertility has declined far less markedly for pro-life individuals,” they added. “Whereas pro-[life] individuals born before 1940 were only having about 1.2 children per one child born to a pro-choice parent, this ratio has grown to over 1.5 for those born in the mid to late 1970s. This pattern suggests that future cohorts may place an even stronger demographic drag on the liberalization of abortion attitudes.”

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A declaration that PP is an 'enemy of the Church' would mean that Catholics who work with, advocate for, or support Planned Parenthood, incur automatic excommunication. American Life League
Lisa Bourne

New campaign asks Pope Francis to declare Planned Parenthood an ‘enemy of the Church’

Lisa Bourne
By Lisa Bourne

The Catholic pro-life organization American Life League (ALL) is launching a campaign calling for the Catholic Church to declare Planned Parenthood an “enemy of the Church.”

Using prayer and education, ALL’s Defend the Family campaign seeks to expose the nation’s largest abortion provider for contribution to the destruction of human lives, as well as the family. 

The campaign, said Jim Sedlack, vice-president of ALL, is quite simply “a way of calling attention to the fact that this is a very bad organization.”

“Planned Parenthood is attacking the family, either by killing preborn children or by robbing the souls of the older children,” he said. 

A declaration that PP is an “enemy of the Church” would mean that Catholics who work with, advocate for, or support Planned Parenthood, incur automatic excommunication.

Such a declaration would not be unprecedented. Popes in the past have identified and condemned organizations that posed a grave threat to the Church, most recently Pope Pius XII in 1949 with Communism and Pope Clement XII in 1738 with Freemasonry.

While specifics would depend on the wording of the Papal pronouncement, Sedlak told LifeSiteNews if the Holy Father makes the declaration there would be no mistaking its intent.

“When the pope makes the declaration it becomes crystal clear,” Sedlak said. “There’ll be no shades of gray, it’ll be black and white, it’ll be clear to the world.”

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'Now is the time'

There are still people who are not fully aware of the extent of the societal damage inflicted by Planned Parenthood, said Sedlak, including members of the Church hierarchy. He said it’s important to emphasize the truth of what the abortion giant does.

“That’s why we’re focusing on the enemy,” said Sedlak. “When people really stop and focus on Planned Parenthood, they realize it’s the enemy.”

ALL cites Planned Parenthood’s targeting of children to sexualize them as a major cause of the destruction of the family and a fundamental reason for the Defend the Family campaign.

“They really push for getting young people into lives of sexual sin,” Sedlak said. “Young people who aren’t pulled into sexual activity do not provide a cent of income to Planned Parenthood, but young people who are pulled in provide millions of dollars to the Planned Parenthood empire.”

ALL compiled a comprehensive report on Planned Parenthood titled, “The Vatican can help save souls from Planned Parenthood,” as part of the Defend the Family campaign.

“The document builds the case,” said Sedlak. “Why Planned Parenthood, why now is the time.”

Sedlak told LifeSiteNews that for its part Planned Parenthood has always recognized that its greatest enemy is the Catholic Church, even working to have the Church lose its status at the UN.

“They fight anybody who wants to take sex away from the kids in any way possible,” Sedlak said. “That’s one reason why Planned Parenthood is the sex mafia.”

And when Sedlak uses the term “mafia,” he means it literally, pointing out that the Holy Father condemned the mafia in his June 21, 2014, homily in Calabria, Italy, denouncing its, “Adoration of evil and contempt for the common good.”

“Planned Parenthood kills far more people than the mafia,” Sedlak said.

Also underscoring the need for the Vatican to act on declaring Planned Parenthood an enemy of the Church, is the convening of the Extraordinary Synod on the Family this October in Rome, which will lead into the general synod in 2015.

Sedlak told LifeSiteNews that these, along with the 2015 World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, are events that ALL will rally around to raise awareness of the Defend the Family campaign.

Preliminary response to the campaign has been very positive, he said.

Sedlak told LifeSiteNews that the “Vatican can help save souls from Planned Parenthood” report was so well received upon initial presentation to Vatican officials, that ALL was asked to translate it into three more languages.

“The support we’ve gotten from talking to bishops has been overwhelming,” Sedlak said.

Prayer is priority #1

The Defend the Family campaign consists first and foremost of prayer, Sedlak told LifeSiteNews.

“Our approach is that we need prayer support,” he said. “The only way that we’re going to succeed is through prayer to the Blessed Mother; the only way it will succeed is if God wants it to succeed.”

Participants are asked to say regular prayers after Mass, to offer prayers for the pope and to initiate communication with local bishops about the dangers that Planned Parenthood poses to the faithful.

Sedlak also added that The Defend the Family campaign is for everyone, not just Catholics.

He said pro-life supporters of all faith traditions are invited to contact ALL for assistance in encouraging their religious denomination or church leader to declare Planned Parenthood an enemy.

In addition to prayers for the campaign, ALL is asking people to sign and submit ALL’s Declaration of Encouragement to the Holy Father, enroll in the Spiritual Bouquet for the Holy Father and to share ALL resources on Planned Parenthood.

Information, links and resources are available on the campaign website, defendthefamily.org.

Sedlak told LifeSiteNews that ALL is giving the success of the Defend the Family campaign up to God.

“This is all happening in God’s time, and so far he’s been blessing us mightily,” Sedlak said. “And we’re going to go wherever God takes us.”

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