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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Dr. Miriam Grossman speaks to large audience in Mississauga, Ontario Steve Jalsevac/LifeSite
Lianne Laurence

VIDEO: How DO you to talk to kids about sex? US sex-ed critic gives practical tips

Lianne Laurence
By Lianne Laurence

MISSISSAUGA, ON, August 27, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – Talking to their children about sex is “anxiety provoking to say the least,” for parents, says American sex-ed expert, Dr. Miriam Grossman.

“Some people just can’t even do it, and that’s okay,” the New York-based psychiatrist told the crowd of 1,000 who packed a Mississauga conference hall August 18 to hear her critique of the Ontario Liberal government’s controversial sex-ed curriculum.

After Grossman explained how the Liberal sex-ed curriculum is dangerously flawed and ideologically driven, she used the question-and-answer session to give parents much appreciated and sometimes humorous practical advice on how to teach their children about “the birds and the bees.”

“If you feel you can’t do it, maybe there’s someone else in the family or in the constellation of people that you know you can trust that could do it,” said Grossman, author of “You’re teaching my child WHAT?” and an internationally sought-after speaker on sex education.

A child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist with 12 years’ clinical experience treating students at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) clinic, Grossman said explaining sexuality and procreation to children is “a process,” that “shouldn’t ideally happen all at once. A child is not a miniature adult, and absorbs…new information differently than adults do.”

And parents need to be sure just what their child wants to know.

To illustrate this, Grossman referred to her earlier story about a father who gave his son every detail on human procreation after the boy asked him, “Dad, where do I come from?”

After the father finished, his son replied, “Well, that’s funny, because Johnny told me that he came from Montreal.”

“Try to find out what your child is really getting at, and, don’t give it all at once,” Grossman said. “You start with a little bit at a time…and you know, there’s so many variables here, and people have their own traditions and their own ways of explaining things, and something that might be right for my family might not be right for your family.”

She also advised that, when confronted with a four, five, six or seven-year-old asking about a pregnant woman, or where babies come, a parent can ask, “What a good question that is. What do you think?”

And parents can also legitimately put off the discussion when appropriate, telling the child, “That’s really not something you need to know about right now.”

“Wow, what a novel idea: Telling a child that they could wait until they’re older to discuss that subject,” Grossman said, adding that parents wouldn’t brook a six- or even fifteen-year-old child asking how much money they made or had in the bank. “Excuse me? Not every subject has to be an open book.”

However, the time will come when a child needs to know “about how her body’s going to change, about reproduction, about how a new life is created.”

That time, Grossman advised, is puberty, or “as puberty is beginning,” and this is especially so for girls, who, if unprepared for the surprise onset of menstruation “might think [they’re] dying.”

“The actual nitty-gritty about the birds and the bees and intercourse” can “be told in bits and pieces, or it can be told all at once, if you feel it’s necessary,” she said, adding that it’s beneficial if the parent acknowledges his or her awkwardness, because the child will think: “This must be such an important subject that my mother or my father is sitting there squirming, but he’s doing it anyway. I’m really loved.”

“And the children need to understand that as you grow up, you change a lot, not only physically but emotionally,” Grossman said, “and what may seem odd or disgusting when you’re ten years old, or whatever age, it becomes something very special and beautiful when you’re older and you’ll understand it later. You don’t have to understand it now.”


Know your child and guard your home

But as an essential foundation for this discussion, parents must both know their children and guard their home from the encroachments of a culture that Grossman described as “very, very sexualized” and “really horrible.”

“Children need parents who are loving but are also firm and authoritative,” she asserted.  “They don’t need best friends. They need us to guide them, to know what they’re doing, to be on top of what they’re doing.

So parents need to be aware of whom their child is “hanging around with, and what kind of movies are they watching…what’s going on with your child.”

“You need to know that anyway, even if it’s not about sex education,” she pointed out. “Try and know your child. Every child is different.”

And Grossman emphasized that it is “extremely important to be careful about what your child is exposed to in the home, in terms of television and Internet, obviously.”

Children need to understand that “just like you have garbage you take out of the house, you put it in the garbage bin, it’s dirty, it smells…there are other things that also don’t belong in the house.”

And children learn quickly what is, and is not, permissible inside the home, Grossman said. “Me, I keep kosher…If I go into a store, my kids know from a very young age, we don’t eat that.”

So they are used to the idea of “the world outside and the inside world, of inside your home, and inside your heart as well.”

Parents can also convey this by telling their children that “the world is an upside-down place, and sometimes the most special, holy subjects are…just thrown in the gutter. And that’s a bad thing. In our family, in our tradition, we don’t do that.”

“Sexuality is one of the subjects that in this upside-down world, it is sometimes just in the gutter,” she said. “And so I want you to tell your child to come to me when you have questions, I will give you the straight story about it.”

Grossman herself is “not even sure,” as she stated in her seminar, that sex education should be in the schools: “I believe sex education should be at home for those parents that want to do it.”

She also noted that parents “can make mistakes. We all make lots of mistakes but it’s okay, you can always come back and do it differently,” adding that this is “another wonderful message for your child. You know what, it’s okay to make mistakes, you can always go back and try and fix it.”

Grossman urged parents to visit her Facebook page, website and blog. “I have so much information you can get there that you’ll find useful,” and added that she will be publishing books for children, and has posted her critique of New York City’s sex-ed curriculum, which is similar to Ontario’s.

The parental backlash to that sex-ed curriculum, set to roll out in the province’s publicly funded schools this September, has been “amazing” Grossman noted.

Grossman’s seminar was sponsored by Mississauga-based HOWA Voice of Change along with the Canadian Families Alliance, an umbrella group representing more than 25 associations and 200,000 Ontarians opposed to the curriculum. The report on her devastating critique of the sex-ed curriculum can be found here, and the video here.

Ontario readers may find information and sign up for a September 2 province-wide protests at MPPs offices here. So far, there are protests planned for 92 of Ontario’s 107 constituencies. The parents’ movement seeking removal of the curriculum is urging all concerned citizens to join this special effort to influence individual Ontario legislators.

See related reports:

Ontario’s dangerous sex-ed is indoctrination not science says U.S. psychiatrist to large audience

Videos: US psychiatrist tells parents “stand firm” against dangerous sex-ed

See the LifeSiteNews feature page on the Ontario sex-ed curriculum containing nearly 100 LifeSite articles related to the issue

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Pete Baklinski Pete Baklinski Follow Pete

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Did the pope just endorse a gay children’s book? Of course not, says Vatican

Pete Baklinski Pete Baklinski Follow Pete
By Pete Baklinski

ROME, August 28, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) -- While mainstream media is gushing with news today that Pope Francis allegedly praised a children’s book that promotes gender theory, the Vatican is decrying what they called the "manipulation" of a cordial letter from an official in the Secretariat of State to suggest that the Vatican is promoting teachings contrary to the Gospel.

Italian children’s author Francesca Pardi was reported by The Guardian to have submitted a parcel of children’s books promoting the acceptance of homosexuality and gender theory to Pope Francis in June after Venice’s mayor Luigi Brugnaro publicly banned the author’s newest book, Piccolo Uovo (Little Egg), from children’s schools. The book was criticized by pro-family leaders for promoting non-natural family structures of two men and two women.

In a letter accompanying the books, Pardi wrote: “Many parishes across the country are in this period sullying our name and telling falsehoods about our work which deeply offends us. We have respect for Catholics. ... A lot of Catholics give back the same respect, why can’t we have the whole hierarchy of the church behind us?”

The Guardian is reporting that Pardi has now “found an unlikely supporter in Pope Francis,” who through his staff has responded to the author and is presented as “praising her work.” It quotes the following from a July 9 letter to Pardi from the Vatican.

“His holiness is grateful for the thoughtful gesture and for the feelings which it evoked, hoping for an always more fruitful activity in the service of young generations and the spread of genuine human and Christian values,” wrote Peter B. Wells, a senior official at the Vatican Secretariat of State, in a the letter The Guardian is reporting it has seen.  

While the letter gently calls the author to use her talents to spread “genuine human and Christian values,” The Guardian takes it as the pope’s endorsement of gender theory.

“Pope Francis sends letter praising gay children's book,” the paper’s headline states. “Italian book that explores different family types including same sex was banned by mayor of Venice, but pontiff becomes unlikely supporter,” reads the subtitle.

In a press release that Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi sent to LifeSiteNews on Friday, the vice speaker of the Vatican, Ciro Benedettini, made clear that the friendly reply letter to the author in no way approves of attitudes or positions that are contrary to Catholic teaching and the Gospels.

The Vatican's statement also says that in the original letter from the secretariat of state Wells merely "acknowledged receipt" of the materials sent by Pardi, and also made clear that the letter was private and not meant for publication. 

"In no way does a letter from the Secretary of State intend to endorse behaviors and teachings not in keeping with the Gospel," says the statement, decrying the "manipulation" of the letter.

Benedettini said the blessing of the pope at the end of the letter was meant to be for the author herself, and not to affirm positions concerning gender theory that are contrary to the Church's teaching. Using the letter to this end is erroneous, he said.

Pope Francis has strongly condemned the notion of “gender theory” on numerous occasions, saying that it is an “error of the human mind that leads to so much confusion.”

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Poll suggests most US Catholics wrongly believe Pope Francis backs gay ‘marriage’

Lisa Bourne
By Lisa Bourne

August 28, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) -- A considerable majority of U.S. Catholics are in conflict with Church teaching on abortion and marriage, a new study says, and a startling number of those also believe Pope Francis backs homosexual “marriage.”

Despite Church teachings, Catholics in America also closely parallel the general populace in their support for abortion and homosexual “marriage,” falling short in the Biblical call to be “in the world but not of the world.”

The findings suggest what many Catholics have said is a climate of confusion in the midst of the Francis pontificate. Concerns over that confusion prompted a coalition of pro-family groups to respond with an international petition effort asking the pope to reaffirm Church teaching, drawing more than a half-million signatures.

The survey, conducted by Public Religions Research Institute, found that 60 percent of all U.S. Catholics favor legalized homosexual “marriage,” compared to 55 percent of all Americans. Likewise, 51 percent of Catholics think that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, with 53 percent of the general population holding this view.

The Catholic Church teaches that marriage is a sacramental union between one man and one woman, mirroring Christ and the Church respectively as bridegroom and bride.

The Church also teaches that life begins at conception, that each human life possesses dignity as a child of God and is to be afforded protection, making abortion an intrinsic evil.

Catholics, accounting for 22 percent of adults in the U.S. population, have a favorable view of Pope Francis, the study said, but they are very confused about his take on homosexual “marriage.”

Of the Catholics who back homosexual “marriage,” 49-percent also think the leader of the Catholic Church backs it along with them. Fifteen percent of those Catholics who oppose homosexual “marriage” also mistakenly believe Pope Francis supports it.

Pope Francis has made numerous statements in support of life, marriage and family, but the confusion remains.

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"After Ireland and the U.S. Supreme Court both approved same-sex 'marriage,' a strong reaffirmation of Church teaching could save the sacred institution of marriage, strengthen the family and dispel the lies of the homosexual revolution," TFP Student Action Director John Ritchie stated.  "Young Catholics -- even non-Catholics -- look to the Church as a beacon of morality and stability in our Godless culture, but some of our shepherds have issued confusing statements."

TFP Student Action is a part of the lay Catholic organization American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, and is part of the alliance behind the Filial Appeal, the petition asking the Holy Father to reinforce Catholic teaching at the Vatican’s upcoming Synod on the Family in October.

Ritchie explained how the confusion was aiding the Church’s enemies, and warned of the potential consequences.

"This prayerful petition asks Pope Francis to clear up the moral confusion that's been spreading against Natural and Divine Law," he said. "If the enemies of the family continue to chip away at holy matrimony, the future of the family and civilization itself will be in even more serious peril."

At press time more than 500,000 signature had been gathered for the appeal, including five cardinals, 117 bishops and hundreds of well-known civic leaders.

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