Why you should care about World Down Syndrome Day

March 21, 2018

“I have had two children . . . I can say without hesitation that, tragic as it would have felt and ghastly as a second-trimester abortion would have been, I would have terminated those pregnancies had the testing come back positive [for Down syndrome].”

With these words, The Washington Post opinion writer Ruth Marcus fired the latest salvo from the pro-abortion side of the life debate and, in doing so, revealed much about the priorities of those who agree with her and the stereotypes surrounding Down syndrome.

Abortion as a means to eliminating Down syndrome

To begin with, let’s be charitable. Marcus represents liberal viewpoints in her editorials. Her central idea that a Down syndrome diagnosis is cause for abortion is not original to her. Moreover, she takes care to note that those parents who raise a child with Down syndrome are praiseworthy. And, a basic reading of Marcus’ essay reveals that Down syndrome is actually just a useful tool for her larger point: Abortion should remain legal.

Marcus isn’t the only recent example of this line of thinking surfacing in a prominent way. Pro-life advocate Obianuju Ekeocha recently discovered a Dutch program where a researcher tells an individual with Down syndrome just how much he costs society. His cost is compared with that of “normal persons.” Renowned Christian ethicist and Princeton professor, Robert P. George, reacted with horror on Twitter.

Prior to that, CBS News profiled the work to make Down syndrome disappear in the country of Iceland through the systematic elimination of those with Down syndrome in the womb. A particularly disturbing statistic is glossed over in the reporting but should jump out at the reader: “Since prenatal screening tests were introduced in Iceland in the early 2000s, the vast majority of women—close to 100 percent—who received a positive test for Down syndrome terminated their pregnancy,” writes the journalist covering this story. A few paragraphs down, though, the author reports, “However, the screening test is only 85 percent accurate (emphasis mine).”

It’s clear that not only is Iceland eradicating people with Down syndrome, as my colleague Josh Wester observed here, but they are ending the lives of countless other children as well. It’s hard to read over these examples and not be angry with those who are essentially advocating child sacrifice. But, as Christians we should ask what we need to be doing to steer our fellow citizens away from this offensive view and help end this practice.

Seeing the Imago Dei in those with Down syndrome

One of the best ways to oppose those who fail to see the intrinsic dignity of individuals with Down syndrome is to tell stories of loved ones who have it. My sister-in-law, Amy, has Down syndrome. She’s full of an unconditional love, spunk, and knows every “I Love Lucy” episode by heart. She was the firstborn of three siblings and came along when her parents were in grad school. While there have been times of testing over the last 40 years, her parents would point out they experienced those with the other two children, as well. In fact, Amy has become her mom’s best friend and cherished companion.

We should never stop proclaiming that all people are made in God’s image and all who call on Christ have the promise of redemption.

In my own life, Amy has been a welcome addition. Her visits with us are a constant source of laughter and joy, especially for our three children who adore their Aunt Amy. Two years ago, Amy was able to star in a music video by the Christian group MercyMe for their hit song “Flawless.” The song has these words:

No matter what they say

Or what you think you are

The day you called his name

He made you flawless

I think those words reflect reality. Many people think those with Down syndrome are a burden on society and should be aborted before they take their first breath. But no matter what demeaning label society comes up with, we should never stop proclaiming that all people are made in God’s image and all who call on Christ have the promise of redemption.

We must also be firm in standing against this pro-abortion viewpoint because we are called to defend those who are marginalized by the world. We should rally to their defense to compel the culture to recognize the intrinsic worth of every person—past, present, and future—with Down syndrome. Thankfully, there is a date reserved each year on an international scale to do just that.

World Down Syndrome Day

Countries around the world mark World Down Syndrome Day on March 21. What began in 2005 as a yearly convention of researchers and medical specialists gathering to learn more about how to assess Down syndrome grew to catch the attention of the international community. The United Nations officially began recognizing this special day in 2012. World Down Syndrome Day was created as an effort to “create a single global voice for advocating for the rights, inclusion, and well being of people with Down syndrome.”

This date provides a natural opportunity for Christians to advocate for their neighbors. We should help our communities see that individuals with Down syndrome offer meaningful contributions to our society, are inherently valuable, and deserve to be protected.

So, as Christians, let’s commit to double our efforts to communicate what it means to be an image bearer of Christ to the outside world. Let’s be sure our actions in other areas aren’t inhibiting this message from being received. And let’s live in such a way that the unbeliever recognizes that we see the inherent dignity in every person regardless of health, status, and color.

Brent Leatherwood

Brent Leatherwood currently serves as Acting President of the ERLC, as well as Vice President of External Affairs and Chief of Staff. Before coming to the ERLC, he served as the executive director of the Tennessee Republican Party from December 2012 to December 2016, where he managed the organization’s campaign apparatus at … Read More