I’m a pro-choice woman and mother of a child with Down syndrome, a diagnosis we received prenatally. Yep. That’s right. Being pro-choice does not mean someone is pro-abortion. We chose Charlie, and while I would love for all families to make the same choice, the current legislative debacle in Indiana turns my stomach.
This week, Indiana Republican Gov. Mike Pence signed a law banning abortion on the basis of race, sex or disability, telling women statewide, “Go ahead and abort a pregnancy, but don’t you dare be honest with your doctor about why; if you are, and you still have an abortion, we’ll prosecute your doctor for performing an illegal abortion.”
I am appalled at how Indiana is using my child’s extra chromosome as one way to manipulate voters and restrict a woman’s right to choose how her body is used. This law will have a chilling effect on how patients and physicians interact, and it seeks to intimidate both into shunning existing rights.
Some in the Down syndrome community may think this law is a win in the movement to educate the world on the contributions all people with Down syndrome offer. Unfortunately, few if any supporters of this law — and least of all Gov. Pence — are motivated to ban abortion as a means of advocating for people with Down syndrome. Pence and anti-abortion activists are clinging to my son’s extra chromosome as a technicality, a glitch in the system, enabling them to force their beliefs on women under the guise of advocating for those with disabilities.
Some may say this law sets the stage to ban prenatal testing. After all, why would anyone want to know genetic details about a baby if she’s not allowed to terminate on that basis? On the contrary, I was “of advanced maternal age,” and we learned prenatally our son Charlie has Down syndrome. That knowledge meant our physicians monitored him closely to ensure his safety. For example, more than 50 percent of babies with Down syndrome are born with heart defects, and Charlie was no exception (thankfully, his was minimal). He also developed a life-threatening condition in utero requiring fluid removal from his lungs — twice.
Yes, we struggled with the diagnosis initially, because all expectant parents have unrealistic notions of what their unborn child will become. For example, my mother imagined I would write best-sellers, and my father imagined I would be a Republican. One aspiration may happen one day; the other, much more unlikely.
The bottom line is, let’s call a conservative effort to ban abortion exactly what it is: a conservative effort to ban abortion. This kitchen-sink law also bans abortion on the basis of race, sex or ancestry. Numerous reasons exist why a woman may not want to continue with her pregnancy, but the government should never be able to mandate her emotions or emotional capacity to give birth. You cannot force a mother to love her child.
You cannot force a mother who feels no love for her child to allow another woman to adopt the child. The repercussions of this law are far reaching, while the governor’s focus is short-sighted: Find new ways to ban abortion.
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Let’s humor the legislators for a moment. Every woman in Indiana now understands they cannot have a candid conversation with her obstetrician. The relationship, based on this nonsensical law, now becomes a carefully crafted dance of semantics: “Doc, blink once if you think my child has Down syndrome.” “Patient, blink twice if you want to terminate the pregnancy because of the information I just gave you in response to your question.”
I promise, Indiana’s law will not decrease the number of Indiana women who seek abortions but rather will have a chilling effect on relationships between Indiana women and their Indiana doctors.
Pence said he signed the bill because he thinks “that a society can be judged by how it deals with its most vulnerable — the aged, the infirm, the disabled and the unborn.”
Some most precious moments as Governor have been w/ families of children w/ disabilities, especially those raising children w/ Down syndrome
— Governor Mike Pence (@GovPenceIN) March 24, 2016
I’m thrilled Spence has spent time with families like mine, but this really isn’t about Down syndrome. The broader issue is advocating for a child as much after his birth as before. How will supporters of this law also support legislation to assist families now forced to give birth to and raise an unwanted child? Will social services be bolstered to support these families, single mothers and single fathers? Will families receive a stipend (reward, if you will) to offset the costs of having an unwanted child? Will Pence contribute to those children’s college funds?
How I wish such anti-abortion voters could recognize the long-term implications of forcing a woman to give birth — physically, economically and emotionally. I also wish they could show me the roster of legislation proposed and supported by conservatives to support these unwanted children as they mature and become adults.
To those who support this and other similar laws, please do not pretend you’re advocating for my child. As a country, we sorely lack appropriate funding and services for children and adults with disabilities. Anti-abortion supporters want to insist all babies are born, but where is your support for funding to ensure effective inclusion in education? You insist all children should be born but put constraints on the assistance families can access affordably or at all. You insist that all babies should be born but offer minimal solutions for ensuring quality of life and as much support for the life they are about to live as from the moment they emerge from their mother’s wombs.
Gov. Pence, as a symbol of your support of children with Down syndrome, please fund the distribution of Lettercase materials to every single OB in your state. In lieu of college funds for these children you insist are born, at least consider providing accurate, unbiased information to every expectant parent who suspects or knows his or her child will be born with Down syndrome.
But don’t forget to add a “P.S.” on each information pamphlet: “I’ll educate you, but I’ll still condemn you for making a decision I don’t support.”