According to the latest statistics, 67-85% of preborn babies diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted in the United States. As a result, the population of people living with the condition has decreased by 30%. In other countries, the abortion rate for Down syndrome can be as high as 90% in the United Kingdom, 98% in Denmark and 100% in Iceland.
There are a variety of reasons why the abortion rate remains high. One is the availability of the Non-Invasive Pregnancy Diagnosis (NIPD), which can predict a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome with 99% accuracy. After receiving an often discouraging diagnosis from medical professionals, many mothers and families feel pressure to abort rather than continue the pregnancy.
What is Down syndrome?
Humans are born with 46 chromosomes, including a pair of chromosome 21. Individuals with Down syndrome have a full or partial extra copy chromosome 21. As a result of this extra chromosome, people with Down syndrome typically have a smaller stature, a distinctive eye shape, some level of intellectual disability, and other issues that can vary from mild to severe.
About 1 in every 700 newborns is born with the condition, that’s approximately 5,300 babies born every year. Older mothers, over the age of 35, usually have a higher risk of giving birth to a child with Down’s syndrome and are more likely to get tested during pregnancy. Younger mothers are less likely to have a prenatal Down syndrome test, but more likely to give birth to a baby with Down syndrome because of their higher fertility rates.
There are three different types of Down syndrome: trisomy 21 (95%), mosaicism (1%), and translocation (4%).
- Trisomy Down syndrome occurs prior to or at conception when the 21st chromosome pair fail to separate and are replicated in every cell of the body as the preborn baby develops.
- Translocation Down syndrome has two typical 21 chromosomes, and an extra full or partial copy of chromosome 21 that attaches to another chromosome like 13, 15 or 22. It is the only form that can be inherited from a parent.
- Mosaicism is the rarest form of Down syndrome. It occurs when the cells of the body have a mixture of the regular 46 and the irregular 47 chromosomes. Individuals with mosaic often have fewer Down syndrome characteristics that the other forms.
Life with a Child who has Down syndrome
Individuals with Down syndrome are some of the happiest, according to a recent study. In the survey, 99% of individuals with Down syndrome reported being happy with their lives, 97% liked who they are, and 86% say they make friends easily. In comparison, a yearly survey by the ‘Happiness Index’ reports that only 81% of Americans say that overall they are happy with their lives.
The benefit of living with someone that has Down syndrome extends to the family, as well. For parents, 79% reported in the same survey that having a child/adult with Down syndrome has caused them to have a more positive outlook on their life. Siblings also benefit with 88% reporting that they felt that they were better people because of their brother or sister who has Down syndrome, and 94% said that they had feelings of pride about their sibling.
Janet Stafford was a young mother when she had Kirsten, her second child, who was born with Down syndrome. Despite the initial shock of the diagnosis for Janet’s family, Kirsten has been a blessing. “Kirsten brings happiness and joy. She is very good at interpreting the needs of those around her.” (Read more about Janet’s journey here.)
People with Down syndrome are also making great strides in school, the workforce, and receiving more comprehensive medical treatment. The average life expectancy for Down syndrome has increased from 25 to 60 years over the last three decades. Depending on state laws, children with Down syndrome are often able to integrate into the general education classroom with other students where they are more likely to succeed. There are also many support groups and other benefits that can help families meet some of their physical and emotional needs.
The medical challenges that individuals with Down syndrome can have depends on the severity of their condition. All of those diagnosed with Down syndrome have delayed development, which often includes specific speech and language difficulties. Some are born with heart defects (40-50%). Other medical issues include respiratory, vision and hearing problems, as well as thyroid issues and they have a higher risk of infection. Around 50% will also develop Alzheimer’s disease after the age of 50.
Why do some Families Choose to Abort?
There are endless reasons why some families choose abortion over bringing a child with Down syndrome into the world. Many report that medical professionals often provide a negative outlook of Down syndrome to prospective parents, and give families little hope that their child will thrive or be independent. A list of complications that the baby may have further discourages parents and makes them fearful of the future for their child. As a result, many families choose abortion over life.
Hope for a Prospective Parent of a Child with Down syndrome
In a survey, parents were asked a couple of open ended questions about life with a child who has Down syndrome. They reported the top five life lessons they learned as: personal self-growth, patience, acceptance/respect, love and joy. When asked about what they would share with prospective parents, they had some amazing responses:
- You will experience joy and rewards
- There will be struggles and challenges
- You will experience love