In a recent op-ed for The New York Times, author Amy Julia Becker calls on society to use prenatal testing for its designed purpose: to better prepare parents to welcome and care for a child with a disability, not to encourage those parents to abort.
Becker’s 16-year-old daughter, Penny, has Down syndrome. Becker explained that Penny has a “relatively normal” life, describing her as a happy, healthy teen. But, she points out, many parents who receive a prenatal Down syndrome diagnosis are immediately encouraged to abort. “Many women whose prenatal tests looked similar to mine are counseled by medical professionals to pursue further diagnostic testing, and, with a confirmation of Down syndrome, to consider abortion,” she wrote. “Every day, I’m glad I didn’t.”
Becker goes on to point out the many flaws with the common way that prenatal diagnostic tests are used:
The assumptions behind our prenatal testing programs also condition parents — and society as a whole — to see our kids as valuable according to their physical strength, intellectual capacity and social acuity rather than setting us up to receive their lives as they are given.
We need to change our approach to prenatal testing by ensuring that pregnant women who receive prenatal diagnoses get accurate information about what it’s like to raise a child with a disability and expanding the awareness of our collective responsibility to welcome and support diverse lives.
Indeed, many parents have spoken about how doctors have used prenatal testing not as a tool to help, but as a way to pressure them into abortion. As Becker points, out, the National Council of Disability has reported that 86% of medical providers offer abortion as a solution after a prenatal diagnosis, while only 37% offer support for continuing the pregnancy.
In many cases, parents who wish to choose life for their child are left to find resources and support groups all on their own. Such groups are out there, but many parents are never told that these groups exist. This is an unfortunate reality, because when prenatal testing is used the ethical way and with the right mindset, it can be a valuable tool and help to prepare parents for what’s ahead.
“Done right, prenatal testing could allow parents to prepare well for the birth of their children,” Becker said. “But without broad social acceptance of people with disabilities, without a medical establishment that conveys the positive social situations of many people with disabilities, and without funding for accurate and up-to-date information in the face of a prenatal diagnosis, more and more women will face decisions about their pregnancies without the support they deserve.”
Becker offers encouragement for anyone who receives a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome. “I understand the fear many women feel in facing a prenatal diagnosis. I wish more of them knew that countless families with children with Down syndrome have lives marked by love and joy, lives that have been changed for the better,” she said, adding, “While I see every abortion as a tragic loss of life, I am especially saddened for the families who have chosen abortion because they feel scared or alone at the thought of raising a child with a disability.”
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