- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 18, 2008

Several years ago, I attended a meeting of single women who were getting pregnant through in-vitro fertilization.

I was taken aback when one - who had wanted a child for years - announced she would abort her son if he had Down syndrome.

I asked the group’s national chapter if I could write about keeping a Down child.

“If you were the single mother of a child with Down syndrome and wanted to tell your story, I might consider it,” went the reply, “but it sounds to me like you just want to publish an anti-choice article for an issue that is a personal choice.

“It is hard enough to make such a decision, and I’m sure that the women of our group know about all of their choices.”

No, they don’t.

I have heard stories from female friends with problem pregnancies whose “genetic counselors” pressure them to abort. Did Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin, whose infant son has Down syndrome, get similar advice?

Sometimes the diagnosis is wrong.

An April 21, 2002, Akron Beacon Journal story tells of a Canton, Ohio, couple who filed a $3.5 million lawsuit claiming a doctor negligently aborted their living child at 12 weeks.

The doctor, who told the couple the child had died in the womb, had misread an ultrasound. A pathologist found the child was viable with no genetic defects.

I interviewed Dr. John Elliott, the director of maternal-fetal medicine at Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center in Phoenix, who specializes in helping mothers of triplets, quadruplets or more carry their babies to term.

“What terrifies patients is they are told their child will be ‘handicapped,’” he said. “What pops into their mind is total brain damage. But it might only be visual acuity, which means the kid will have glasses. Or they have a bit of hearing problem.

“When the woman is terrorized at the beginning, she is not told what those handicaps are.”

So these children sometimes are treated as monsters. An April 20, 2006, story in the Arlington Catholic Herald records one doctor telling the mother of a girl with Trisomy-13 she would not want to look at nor hold the girl after her birth. Plus, if she were born alive and began to choke, she would not resuscitate her.

The child died in the womb at 34 weeks, and the newspaper carried a photo of her mother cradling the stillborn baby.

I’ve interviewed anesthesiologists who say the unborn child feels pain beginning at its seventh week. Still, many women are routinely advised to abort handicapped fetuses far later than that.

I covered a 1997 congressional hearing featuring such women, who brought their pregnancies to term. Even if the child only lived for a few hours, they all testified they did not regret forgoing an abortion.

One couple held a squirming 9-month-old son born with his intestines outside his body. He was fine after multiple surgeries.

New York Times editor Bill Keller wrote a June 29, 2002, story about how he and his pregnant wife were told at 17 weeks that their son, Charlie, had unspecified birth defects.

“The doctors assumed that, of course, we’d want to abort as soon as possible,” he wrote. But he and his wife, both Catholics, waited until 24 weeks to do the procedure, hoping the diagnosis was wrong.

The last thing his wife was aware of before undergoing anesthesia was the sensation of her doomed son kicking madly.

Julia Duin’s column “Stairway to Heaven” runs Thursdays and Sundays. Contact her at [email protected]

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