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Protecting Children with Down Syndrome
Maria Gallagher 17 May 2018
Children with Down syndrome would experience new protection, under bills being considered in the Pennsylvania legislature.
The measures would ban the abortion of babies who have been diagnosed with Down syndrome in the womb. Currently, babies in the Keystone State can be aborted up to 24 weeks gestation, except in cases of sex-selection abortion, which are banned. (Pennsylvania has been at the forefront of protecting baby girls from abortion solely on the basis of their sex.)
The Speaker of the Pennsylvania House, Representative Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny County) and Representative Judy Ward, a nurse, (R-Blair County) are the prime sponsors of the House bill, known as the Down Syndrome Protection Act (House Bill 2050). House Bill 2050 passed the Pennsylvania House this spring by an overwhelming, bipartisan, veto-proof majority of 139-56. It is now under consideration by the Pennsylvania Senate.
“We’re raising the concern in Pennsylvania because of some tragic trends in European countries," Speaker Turzai said. "In Iceland, they’ve become notorious for the claim that Down syndrome has been nearly eliminated. What they fail to mention is that Iceland has a 100 percent abortion of pre-born children with this diagnosis. I believe in the dignity of every human being. None of us are born perfect, and we all have something beautiful to contribute. Pennsylvania is a loving, compassionate community, and we want to extend welcome and support to Down syndrome families. They need to know they’re not alone.”
Parents report often being pressured by doctors and others to abort babies diagnosed with Down syndrome. This is often based on the misconception that the children will suffer and will be a burden to their parents.
But in point of fact, those born with Down syndrome now experience a much greater life expectancy and a myriad of opportunities.
“The future has never been brighter for babies born with Down syndrome,” Rep. Ward said. “Medical and social advances have changed what it means to live with this condition. Down syndrome means that opportunities exist in every area of school, community, and even professional life. We’ve learned too much to accept that Down syndrome citizens should be considered anything less than full members of the community. They deserve respect and the protection of our laws.”
The Senate measure, Senate Bill 1050, is sponsored by Senator Scott Martin (R-Lancaster County). “It is about eugenics – the heavily criticized practice of discarding children if they do not have certain ‘desirable’ traits,’” Senator Martin said. “There are a wealth of resources available today to help families who are affected by this genetic condition, including new educational resources for all ages, and we are seeing more individuals with Down syndrome attending college and entering the workforce than ever before,” Martin added. “Every child who has this condition deserves a chance to experience all of the happiness and fulfillment that life has to offer.”
Pennsylvania is already home to Chloe's Law--a measure named after high school student Chloe Kondrich, who has Down syndrome. The law provides resources and support to parents who learn that their unborn children may have Down syndrome. Chloe has accomplished a great deal in her young life, including writing a book and meeting with nationally-known public officials, sports stars, and entertainment figures. She recently attended the White House Rose Garden ceremony commemorating the tragic anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion nationwide.
“Although Chloe's Law (Act 130 of 2014) has been a valuable tool in educating parents about the quality of life of a person with Down syndrome, the abortion rate for children is still too high,” said Speaker Turzai. “It’s time to protect children with Down syndrome at every stage of life—especially at their most vulnerable.”
During a media event introducing the legislation, Karen Gaffney, a woman with Down syndrome, spoke eloquently about the fact that a life with Down syndrome is a life worth living. In addition to holding an honorary doctorate, Gaffney has swum the English Channel and graduated from college with high marks. Gaffney is among those shattering stereotypes about what it is like to live with an extra chromosome.
The legislative push for House Bill 2050 and Senate Bill 1050 has been accompanied by an impressive media campaign, aimed at enlightening members of both the media and the general public about Down syndrome. Inspiring stories of people living with Down syndrome, videos, and a host of other resources can be found at www.ProtectAtDiagnosis.com .
The response from many lawmakers to the legislation has been enthusiastic. It has been said that the measures have helped to put a face on the tragedy of abortion in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. As Senator Martin states, “Many of our local communities are home to individuals with Down syndrome, and each and every day, they prove that people with this condition can live happy, healthy, and productive lives. My bill is designed to protect their most basic right – to exist. It aims to prevent an entire class of people from being erased on the sole basis of a disability.”
Maria Gallagher, Legislative Director, Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation, firstname.lastname@example.org