An upcoming conference in the nation’s capital will address the staggering 90 percent abortion rate of babies with disabilities, while emphasizing the often unknown joys of caring for the disabled.
Many people have a “complete misunderstanding of the gift of a disabled baby,” said organizer Jeanne Monahan, director of the Center for Human Dignity at the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C.
At the Jan. 21 “Council on Poor Prenatal Diagnoses and Therapeutic Intervention,” speakers will raise awareness about the dignity of all human life, including those with serious disabilities.
“It is hard, but it’s a gift,” she told CNA on Jan. 18, noting that many Americans are unaware of the joys that come along with having a disabled family member.
A study published last October in the American Journal of Medical Genetics revealed that 99 percent of adults with Down syndrome reported being happy with their lives.
The majority of parents and guardians surveyed also said they had a more positive outlook on life, and most siblings said they believed they were better people because of their family member with Down syndrome.
Yet babies who undergo “poor prenatal diagnoses” are among the most targeted groups for abortion, amounting to what Monahan described as “essentially genocide.”
Current estimates indicate that between 85 and 90 percent of Down syndrome babies are aborted, which shows the dramatic need for pro-life genetic counseling programs across the country, she said.
Her concerns over the issue increased in October of 2011 when researchers launched a new blood test that could detect Down syndrome even earlier during pregnancy.
While the technology itself is not problematic, Monahan worries that greater availability of testing may lead to more abortions.
In response to the growing problem, she helped organize the Jan. 21 conference, which is intended to reach out to doctors, genetic counselors and others in the medical community, in order to bring attention to the amount of research and treatments available for those with disabilities.
Members of the public are also welcome to attend the conference or to watch it on a live webcast from the Family Research Council headquarters.
The conference will feature talks by numerous medical professionals, as well as panel discussions, presentations of medical research and personal anecdotes, including the testimony of Samuel Armas and his mother, Julie.
Samuel was diagnosed with Spina Bifida before he was born. While undergoing surgery, his hand was photographed reaching out of his mother’s womb and holding the finger of the doctor. The image has since become an internet phenomenon and has been widely circulated by pro-life groups.
Today, Samuel is a “very active and healthy 12-year-old” with strong pro-life convictions, Monahan said.
She ultimately believes the high number of disabled abortions stems from “a profound misunderstanding of the dignity of the human person,” as well as a cultural lack of perception on the meaning of suffering.
The conference not only aims to help people realize that all life is a gift from God, but will inform people on the “plethora of treatments” available for those with disabilities, as well as support groups to help their families and caretakers, she added.
For expectant couples who fear being told their unborn child is disabled, Monahan stressed the joy that those with disabilities bring to everyone around them.
“This isn’t a death sentence,” she said. “It’s a gift from God.”