THIS WEEKEND, THE Citizen’s Assembly meets again to discuss the Eighth Amendment, and, along with thousands of other families, this makes me wonder what all these discussions and decisions mean for children like my son, Kevin.
My husband and I have four children, two girls and then two boys. Our first boy, Kevin, is now 9, soon to be 10, and he was born with Down’s Syndrome.
I’m grateful every day that he was not diagnosed in utero. I had 9 beautiful months of pregnancy with not a care in the world, falling in love with our third child as he grew.
The most beautiful baby
He came into the world screaming, and was the most beautiful baby I had ever seen. Gorgeous chubby cheeks and a pink, healthy face. He was perfect. When we were told almost immediately after birth that he had some of the markers for Down’s Syndrome, we were a little shocked. To us, he looked just like his sisters.
Over the next few days the doctors burdened us with every single thing that could possibly go wrong with our baby. We were told there was a good chance he would not breastfeed, and could find it very difficult to speak, walk, ride a bike or swim.
Our smart boy must have been listening to it all, because from day one he proved all the doubters wrong. He breastfed like a pro, slept right through the night, and walked as soon as his sisters. He had no health problems other than typical childhood illnesses and injuries.
Disability doesn’t diminish love
I know that Down’s Syndrome is a spectrum and some children do have more associated health problems than Kevin. Their parents would be the first to tell you that those additional disabilities do not make their children less precious or less loved.
I believe that children like Kevin are a gift to all of us, and I am thankful every day that their lives are protected by the Irish Constitution. The huge problem I have with the Eighth Amendment being tampered with is that I know fear is a very powerful emotion.
If a woman is told her baby in the womb has Down’s Syndrome, and then listens to all the “facts” my husband and I were told, she would be terrified. She would be full of self-doubt, and think she is not armed with the skills needed to raise a child with additional or sometimes different needs.
We are not empowering women by giving credence to any self-doubt they may have. How more powerful would it be to tell her she is amazing and strong and she can raise this child to shine like a bright light in this world, just like my son Kevin does.
Everyone who meets him adores him, and he stretches my heart to bursting point every day. But that may all be about to change, and that terrifies me, with good reason.
Chilling statistics from abroad
Last month, Dr Peter McParland, an obstetrician from the National Maternity Hospital, talked to the Citizens Assembly about the reality of what has happened in other countries once abortion was legalised for reasons of disability. The numbers are stark and they are utterly devastating.
In Britain, 90% of babies with Down’s Syndrome are aborted before birth. In Iceland, every single baby, 100% of all those diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome, are aborted. There hasn’t been a baby with Down’s Syndrome born in Iceland in the past five years.
Denmark is following suit, and is expected to be “Down’s Syndrome-free” by 2030 and these cold and chilling statistics show us exactly where legal abortion is leading the rest of Europe.
A Down’s free world?
Legal abortion is leading us to a “Down’s Syndrome-free” world. I can barely type the words. It is utterly heart-breaking. Little wonder that, in Britain, Lord Shinkwin – a member of the House of Lords who has a congenital disability – last week gave a powerful speech pointing out, “the writing is on the wall for people like me. People with congenital disabilities are facing extinction.”
I cried a river the night I watched the beautiful and thought-provoking documentary by actress Sally Philips called “A world without Down’s”, which revealed the same statistics on abortion which Dr McParland shared.
Incidentally, every person I spoke to about it was deeply disturbed by its findings too. But now, we need to ask ourselves what path do we want this country of ours to follow?
Our debate must listen to families like mine
I believe the debate on the Eighth Amendment needs to hear from families like mine. People like Kevin are not here just to give us warm and cosy feelings during the Special Olympics. Their lives matter. Their human right to life matters. Children like Kevin are facing extinction in other countries.
So the question is – will Ireland choose a better path, a path of compassion and love and understanding? A path where we help families to love and raise their children, rather than eliminating people with Down’s Syndrome before they are born.
I believe we can. The Eighth Amendment protected my son, and he was deserving of that protection. It should remain as a shining light to a world where the best and most beautiful of our citizens are being snuffed out.
Anne Trainer is mammy to four great kids, and a passionate believer in equality and opportunity for all people with disabilities.