Guest Column

I was pressured to abort after a decimal point error led to a Down syndrome misdiagnosis

Down syndrome, Live Action, choose life, foster

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this guest post are solely those of the author and are not necessarily reflective of Live Action or Live Action News.

It was around this time last year that I discovered I was expecting my fourth child. The news hit me like a ton of bricks. We were expecting many major life changes in 2020, and that was before the COVID-19 pandemic. I already had so much on my plate I found myself crying frequently, unsure how I was going to handle everything. 

As the pregnancy went on and I processed the news, I’m not sure I ever recovered from the shock and the stress that compounded from it, and my frail emotional state must have been written on my face at my prenatal appointments. It was after my first trimester screening that I received another surprise: the test results came back that my baby was positive for Down syndrome. 

“Well, you’ll want options sooner rather than later,” said the nurse delivering the news, adding, “Because once you hit 20 weeks, you’re out of options.” I immediately let her know I was more interested in information than options. Although her words were brief and cryptic, they stuck with me, and more and more I felt like I had been kicked in the gut. 

I found myself in a situation that many women do. Sometimes the pressure comes from a romantic partner. In some cases it comes from family members. Some women feel pressured by their economic situation. But worst of all is when the pressure to abort comes from a medical professional in whom a patient has placed their trust. And when providers don’t communicate perfectly among themselves, some women are asked the same question by different people at every single appointment.

Are you really SURE you don’t want an abortion? Are you sure? 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Down syndrome affects 1 in every 700 of babies born in the U.S. each year. While a long time ago it was considered a tragic diagnosis with medical comorbidities, advances in medicine and societal changes mean that people with Down syndrome are now living longer and healthier lives than ever, with lifespans of over 60 years in many cases, according to the Mayo Clinic. They are also seeing more representation than ever before, with members of the Down syndrome community gracing the covers of magazines and being featured by major brands. Live Action News has chronicled the incredible successes of nine successful and talented individuals — including a restaurant owner, artist, public speaker, and educator — who also happen to have Down syndrome.

What shocked me more than anything else was the suggestion that I abort my child for a non-lethal diagnosis. While it’s definitely wrong, I can understand where a misplaced sense of compassion might cause a doctor to suggest an abortion for a medically difficult condition, or one where a baby may not live long past birth. But when a doctor or other medical professional suggests that abortion is an appropriate response to a diagnosis of Down syndrome, a patient can’t help but think, “What does this person know that I don’t know?” 

After many diagnostic ultrasounds and specialist visits, the diagnosis turned out to be on account of a lab error. Someone had put a decimal in the wrong space, an occurrence so vanishingly rare that the maternal-fetal specialist doctor exhausted every other potential course of action before he was able to state it definitively. Two phone calls and ten minutes later and my test results were corrected. My baby was later born completely healthy. 

I am fortunate that I am in a healthy and stable marriage with three other children. I can’t help but think what might have happened if I had destabilizing factors in my life — if I feared eviction, if I feared violence from a domestic partner — what the suggestion of aborting my child would sound like to me. In such circumstances, the suggestion would carry even more weight coming from my doctor. And even worse, if I had followed their advice in my case, I would have to live with the knowledge that the life of my baby would have been ended … because of a misplaced decimal point.

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