Down Syndrome Awareness Month 2020 kicked off Thursday, an annual occasion to “raise public awareness about the condition and advocate for acceptance and inclusion of people with Down syndrome.”
October was first designated as Down Syndrome Awareness Month in the 1980s and “has been recognized every October since.”
More than 400,000 Americans currently live with Down syndrome and 6,000 babies with the condition are born every year in the U.S., according to the Special Olympics.
Individuals with Down syndrome have an extra copy or part of a copy of chromosome 21, one of 46 chromosomes a baby is typically born with.
As a result of the extra chromosome, people with Down syndrome often have a “flattened facial profile,” “decreased muscle tone or loose joints,” and small stature. Down syndrome can also cause intellectual and developmental disabilities.
In spite of the difficulties they face, “people with Down syndrome are just like everyone else” in that they have “similar dreams and goals, and they want to have successful careers and families.”
“They can drive, go to work, go to college, go on dates, get married and contribute to society,” the Special Olympics pointed out in a statement.
President Donald Trump issued a statement on Thursday referring to babies born with Down syndrome as “treasured members of our society” who are “created in the image of God.”
“The First Lady and I celebrate these remarkable people, members of our families, communities, and Nation, and my Administration reasserts its commitment to standing against those who seek to discriminate, devalue, and demean the sanctity of their lives,” he added, referring to those who seek to abort children with Down syndrome.
“As our society progresses toward a more inclusive future, there are still those who pass judgment on which lives are worth living,” he added. “As President, I denounce radical proposals to terminate pregnancies of unborn children with Down syndrome. Our Nation will continue to emphatically affirm the self-evident ideal that all children — born and unborn — are created in the image of God, are worthy of life, and deserve to be loved.”
Across the nation, families with loved ones with Down syndrome have recounted their blessings.
“We are more alike than we are different, and just reach out, and say hello, don’t be afraid,” Virginia resident Bill Lawfield, the father of 9-year-old Madison, told WFXR. “I can promise you one thing, if you think that being connected to one of these children or young adults is going to help change their lives, you’re immediately wrong. That relationship is going to change your life.”
In California, the Sunshine Foundation, a nonprofit that seeks to grant the wishes of kids with chronic illnesses, gifted a 7-year-old Vero Beach boy with Down syndrome with his own inflatable, backyard water slide and a bounce house.
“For one, me being a single parent trying to do things with him is kind of hard. When the wish came about, it was so good for him," Taleisha Woodard, the mother of Raymond, told Treasure Coast news. "I could just let him play in the backyard and have fun."
Down syndrome awareness month comes as Scotland has implemented prenatal testing designed to screen for Down syndrome.
This is a cause of great concern for Lynn Murray, spokesperson for Don’t Screen Us Out, a campaign group focused on stopping the abortion of children with Down syndrome.
Murray expressed concern Monday that “rolling out these tests would lead to a large drop in the number of babies with Down’s syndrome.”
“As a mother of a daughter who has Down’s syndrome, I see every day the unique value she brings to our family and the positive impact she has on others around her,” she said. “That lived experience isn’t a fundamental of the screening programme.”
Since similar testing was implemented in Iceland several years ago, CBS News reported in 2017 that nearly 100% of women whose babies had Down syndrome chose to abort their children.
At the time, prominent evangelical psychologist Dr. James Dobson, founder of the socially conservative group Focus on the Family, likened the “eradicating” of babies with Down syndrome to “Nazi-era eugenics.”
According to the CBS News report, 67% of American babies diagnosed with Down syndrome before birth were aborted.
The issue of aborting children with Down syndrome was raised at the Republican National Convention in August.
In a speech, a school choice advocate Tera Myers explained that her doctor encouraged her to abort her son, who had Down syndrome.
“He said, ‘If you do not, you will be burdening your life, your family and your community,’” she recalled.
Myers also said that when she tried to register her son for kindergarten, school officials told her to “put him where he would be comfortable,” adding that she should not “stress him out by trying to teach him.”
She discussed how her experience trying to enroll her son at the same school his sisters attended inspired her to fight to “pass legislation in Ohio for a special-needs scholarship so that all students could choose the right program for their needs.”
Elected officials in the U.S. have worked to end the legality of aborting babies with Down syndrome.
When he served as governor of Indiana, Vice President Mike Pence signed a bill, which was later struck down in court, that outlawed abortions of unborn babies with Down syndrome.
Earlier this year, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves signed into law a bill banning abortions on the basis of race, gender or genetic abnormalities.
Similar bills have also passed in North Dakota, Utah and Ohio. The bills in North Dakota, Ohio and Indiana have faced court challenges.