Proponents of these laws claim they're protecting children like mine, but that’s just not true.
The author and her daughter. Photo: Courtesy of Leesha Thrower
I'm the mother of an energetic, talkative, and sweet six-and-a-half-year-old girl. My daughter also has Down syndrome. I am so grateful for this incredible child I love, and I don’t think any woman should be forced to give birth to a child she doesn’t want. Yet in our state of Ohio, legislators recently passed a law banning abortion when the fetus has been diagnosed with Down syndrome. While a federal judge last month blocked Ohio’s law, and a federal appeals court in Indiana recently blocked a similar law there, legislators in Illinois, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Pennsylvania are all considering similar bans.
My daughter is the light of my life. When she reads to me or comforts her brothers, I feel like my heart is so full I can hardly breathe. I would like other mothers who might birth a child like her to feel less afraid. But I am deeply disturbed that lawmakers are using my daughter’s genetic condition as a pretext to take healthcare and rights away from women and force them into carrying a pregnancy. Many people are not aware of this latest state-by-state push by the anti-abortion movement to exploit children like my daughter. Proponents of these laws have claimed they are protecting children with Down syndrome, but that’s just not true. These laws are dangerous and offensive both to women and people with disabilities.
There’s no mystery to what people with Down syndrome need to thrive, through childhood and as adults. The Down syndrome community has been asking for these policies and programs for decades. But lawmakers have largely ignored our pleas, instead opting for an abortion ban that we did not ask for.
Since giving birth to my daughter, I have spent a lot of time with other parents of children with Down syndrome. We talk about our kids, how they’re growing and learning, and the policies and resources our children need to live full lives. For example, we need better insurance coverage for health conditions common for people with Down syndrome, including affordable care for those who will need open heart surgery within the first six months of life. We also need to address the alarming health disparities black people with Down syndrome face compared with their white counterparts, including a lower life expectancy.
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My daughter, and many other kids with Down syndrome, would benefit from additional speech, occupational, and physical therapy. But many children with Down syndrome go without needed interventions and therapies because they are unaffordable or unavailable. For example, my daughter lacks fine motor coordination and needs extra help with writing skills. Therapies provided at school aren't sufficient as there is limited time during the school day. But a summer occupational therapy program that would benefit my daughter is costly, and this summer, she will likely go without it. Likewise, she goes without the comprehensive speech therapy she needs, because my health insurance allows for only 20 visits per year for speech therapy—less than two visits a month.
We need inclusive education that prepares all children to become independent, contributing members of society, and for employment opportunities that pay a living wage. My daughter deserves the same opportunities to learn, live, and be happy as other children.
Federal and state lawmakers should be listening to families with children with special needs and addressing our concerns instead of forcing women to give birth or interfering with women’s relationships with their healthcare providers.
Some of these laws threaten doctors with jail for providing abortions, which will make it harder for a woman to have honest and informed conversations with her doctor about her full range of options. A pregnant woman should be able to get all the health information and services she needs to make decisions about her family and her future.
There are people who genuinely care about children with Down syndrome and might believe that this kind of law is helping them. I ask those people to listen and take my message to heart: These laws do nothing to help people with Down syndrome. They do nothing to address real health concerns or discrimination, or to provide resources to help them lead independent lives as adults. There are so many things we can do together to make our communities better for people like my daughter. Banning abortion is not one of them.
I fight every day for my daughter’s future, and I invite anyone genuinely interested in supporting us to look to the solutions we’ve been putting forward for years and to tell politicians to stop using our children to advance their harmful political agenda.
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