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A Brave Response To North Dakota’s New Abortion Law

A Brave Response To North Dakota’s New Abortion Law

I am a professional in the field of services and supports for people with disabilities. As a lifelong disability advocate, and someone who knows a lot of wonderful people with Down syndrome, I am concerned, as are many advocates I know, about early, noninvasive prenatal testing that is likely to result in more abortions of fetuses with Down syndrome.

One such test is on the market and in use; others are in development. A new North Dakota law prohibits abortion in the case of Down syndrome or other fetal abnormalities. As a lifelong pro-choice advocate, I abhor what North Dakota and other states are doing: foisting their religious beliefs on others.

I support a group that is working to provide families with scientifically accurate information about Down syndrome, coming out of legislation by Senators Kennedy and Brownback. See for more information. It operates under the premise that if you give families accurate information, they will make the decision that is best for their family.

There is but one slight reference to “termination” in a book otherwise filled with great photographs and the best information available. The booklet, “Understanding a Down Syndrome Diagnosis” provides accurate information on everything from medical issues to educational opportunities for children with Down syndrome.

The Down syndrome community has been torn apart, and great damage has been done to people I care about, on this issue. Anytime you mention abortion, emotions, and rhetoric, run high.

I have sat with families more times than I can count when they are making this decision vis-a-vis Down syndrome after a prenatal diagnosis. When I talk to these families, I tell them the truth as I know it, and urge them to speak with families who are raising children with Down syndrome. I tell them about the good things about people who have Down syndrome and the struggles they will face, in part due to their child’s syndrome and in part due to the challenges they will face with school systems and ignorant people, both professionals and the lay public.

But I do not want anti-abortion activists to hijack the conversation around Down syndrome.

The “chromosome” that makes people draft laws that rob women usually also makes them want to lower taxes and cut budgets. North Dakota enjoys significant budget surpluses, so it is somewhat of an exception, but efforts are underway even there to cut programs for vulnerable people.

I worked for a governor, Robert P. Casey, who was ardently pro-life. But his definition of pro-life was not just anti-abortion, but lifelong support for families. In the middle of a recession in the late 1980’s he signed legislation making early intervention for children with disabilities an entitlement: one of the first states in the nation to do so. The people behind the North Dakota issue, and abortion restrictions are, so far as I can determine, not like that.

All people with disabilities have value, to their families, to their communities and to their nations. Let’s not let the abortion debate distract us from the efforts to improve the lives of all people with disabilities and their families.

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