Down syndrome survivors: an argument against abortion

Carolyn Moynihan
August 14, 2019
Reproduced with Permission

Among the best arguments against abortion are the stories of those who, having been offered it or even considered it, have rejected it. Or, having been threatened with it at the beginning of their lives, survived it. And the most obvious survivors are those in the community with Down syndrome, who, with their families, are increasingly ready to talk to us about it.

Whether by design or accident, two such testimonies have surfaced on New Zealand news sites at the same time as the government promotes legislation that could threaten the lives of even more unborn children with disabilities.

From Stuff comes a piece (and video) about Suzy Dymock and her 24-year-old son Bill Gavin, who has Down. Mother and son live happily together; he has had a spell at flatting (wants to try again), goes to the gym and spends Fridays in the city. He even enjoys a cider every so often.

Twenty-five years ago, however, Ms Dymock was in the UK being fast-tracked for an abortion after a 20 (plus) week scan indicated her baby had trisomy 21. She wasn't even aware at first that she was being screened for the genetic disorder. "I'm so pleased that I managed to get off the conveyer belt. I'm really grateful every day because my son's just gorgeous," she says.

A few days after the Kiwi parliament moved towards making such "conveyer belt" treatment even more accessible, Newshub brought us a delightful piece about the All Blacks' Beauden Barrett and his younger sister, Zara, who also has Down syndrome.

All Blacks' Barrett brothers share sister's story, raise Down syndrome awareness:

"Her mum Robyn and dad 'Smiley' have eight kids. There are five brothers: Beaudy, Scotty, Jordie, Kane and Blake. With Beauden, Scott and Jordie all in the All Blacks, the rugby story is well known," Stuff reports. "But now the Barretts are opening up about Zara to raise awareness of Down syndrome."

In particular they are working with the charity UpsideDowns to raise funds for speech therapy, which most people with Down syndrome need, although it costs families thousands of dollars a year (there's no government funding). Being part of a big family has helped Zara a lot but she still has some challenges with her speech.

The Barretts say that treating all the kids equally has been the key to giving Zara a "great life" as well as the boys' sporting success. "lnclusiveness is massive for any Down syndrome person in New Zealand," brother Jordie says.

Across the West, termination rates for babies with Down syndrome are commonly above 70 percent. In Denmark it's 98 percent (2015) and in Iceland with its tiny population, the syndrome has practically disappeared.

In New Zealand, the number of scans mothers are having increased from the recommended two in 2005 to 3.4 in 2015. NZ Down Syndrome Association president Kim Porthouse told Stuff that "previously one in every 700 children was born with Down syndrome here, but since the scans had been introduced, it was more like one in every 1000, and climbing."

The Abortion Supervisory Committee's data reveals the number of abortions linked to the baby being "handicapped" increased from 194 in 2013 to 211 in 2017, Stuff reports. But, "This is still only a jump from 1.37 to 1.58 per cent of total terminations."

"Only" is not the right word to use in the context of ending the life of an unborn child, particularly one with a disability as mild as Down syndrome usually is. Both Kim Porthouse, who has a 21-year-old son with Down, and Suzy Dymock say they would like to see an end to the current screening regime as it encourages people to terminate.

"Do we want this in New Zealand? Do we want to have a Down syndrome free society? I don't personally, I don't want to be living in a place like that," Dymock said.

And Porthouse said: "It's not a bad life. It's a rewarding and joyful experience. All children have their challenges in phases of life - Down syndrome is just a challenge.

"You're happy with what you receive - it's a gift."