.- An 80 percent abortion rate of those with disabilities shows the need to restore a fundamental respect for human dignity in America, said Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia.
He underscored that the plight of disabled babies highlights âa struggle within the American soulâ that will shape the future of the nation.
âThese children with disabilities are not a burden; theyâre a priceless gift to all of us,â the archbishop said. âTheyâre a doorway to the real meaning of our humanity.â
Archbishop Chaput delivered the keynote address at the thirteenth annual Cardinal OâConnor Conference on Life on Jan. 22.
The conference, which was held at Georgetown University, took place one day before the March for Life, at which hundreds of thousands of Americans annually gather in the nationâs capital to protest abortion and show their support for the dignity of all human life.
âAbortion kills a child, it wounds a precious part of a womanâs own dignity and identity, and it steals hope,â the archbishop said. âThatâs why itâs wrong. Thatâs why it needs to end. Thatâs why we march.â
He warned that without a strong foundation of faith and morals, America becomes âalien and hostileâ to its founding ideals. This threat is clearly demonstrated in the countryâs treatment of the poor and disabled, which the archbishop said âshows what we really believe about human dignity.â
In his talk, Archbishop Chaput focused on children with Down syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects development, appearance and cognitive function, and can cause other health problems.
He observed that prenatal testing is now able to detect up to 95 percent of pregnancies that have a strong risk of Down syndrome, and more than 80 percent of the unborn babies who are diagnosed with the disorder are aborted.
These babies are killed because of a flaw in their chromosomes that is âneither fatal nor contagious, but merely undesirable,â he said.
The archbishop lamented the growing tendency of medical professionals to emphasize the possible defects of Down syndrome, thus steering expectant mothers of children with the disorder towards abortion.
Parents and doctors should be realistic about the challenges, understanding that raising a disabled child will involve âsome degree of suffering,â he said. However, they should also see the potential and beauty of children with special needs, realizing that no child is perfect.
Archbishop Chaput noted that today, individuals with Down syndrome have longer life expectancies than ever before and can generally âenjoy happy, productive lives.â
âThe real choice in accepting or rejecting a child with special needs is between love and unlove; between courage and cowardice; between trust and fear,â he said.
This is a choice that must be faced on both an individual level and as a society, he added, emphasizing that âGod will demand an accountingâ of how we have used our freedom.
If we really âtake God seriously,â we will work to uphold the sanctity of human life and dignity of sexuality in our daily lives, he said.
This means that public officials should live out their Catholic faith in the laws that they support; doctors in the procedures they perform and the drugs they prescribe; and citizens in their actions on public issues, he explained.
He praised the work of people and organizations who aid those with disabilities, recognizing in them âan invitation to learn how to love deeply and without counting the cost.â
Archbishop Chaput urged those present at the conference not to be afraid as they persevere in being an apostle to those around them.
âFear is beneath your dignity as sons and daughters of the God of life,â he said. âNever give up the struggle that the March for Life embodies,â he added. âYour prolife witness gives glory to God.â
Although changing the culture is âa huge task,â we must recognize that we are being called by God to do so, the archbishop said. âHeâs waiting, and now we need to answer him.â