When the Rev. Thomas Vander Woude learned about a young couple planning to abort their unborn baby that had been diagnosed with Down syndrome, the priest reached out and offered a deal: Deliver the child and he would help find an appropriate adoptive family.
But he had to act fast.
The woman, who has not been identified for her privacy and her protection, was just shy of six months pregnant and lives in a state that prohibits abortions past 24 weeks — which meant he had a short time to find a family willing to make a lifelong commitment.
So Father Vander Woude, the lead pastor at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Gainesville, Va., approached a volunteer who helped manage the church’s social media pages, and she posted an urgent plea on Facebook early Monday morning.
“There is a couple in another state who have contacted an adoption agency looking for a family to adopt their Down Syndrome unborn baby. If a couple has not been found by today they plan to abort the baby. If you are interested in adopting this baby please contact Fr. VW IMMEDIATELY,” the post read. “We are asking all to pray for this baby and the wisdom that this couple realize the importance of human life and do not abort this beautiful gift from God.”
The post asked people to call the church’s office after 9:30 a.m. Monday or to email Father Vander Woude.
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No one expected the response they received.
“When we got in and opened up around 9:30, it was nearly nonstop. All day long, we were receiving phone calls from people who wanted to adopt the baby,” church staff member Martha Drennan said. “Father Vander Woude has gotten over 900 emails in regard to the baby.”
The offers were narrowed to three families, which the unborn child’s parents are reviewing with the help of an adoption agency.
Ms. Drennan said the church received phone calls from all over the United States and around the world, including from England, Puerto Rico and the Netherlands.
“I think it is a wonderful use of social media, that word can so quickly get all over the country and even to foreign countries and that the people who see the value of life are stepping up and saying, ‘I will take that baby and raise that baby as mine,’” Ms. Drennan said. “It was a beautiful witness all day long that so many people wanted this child and believed in the dignity of that child — Down syndrome or not.”
The president and founder of the International Down Syndrome Coalition, Diane Grover, stressed the importance of informing couples who are considering abortion for babies with Down syndrome that adoption is a viable option, pointing to the fast and overwhelming response her organization received about this one unborn child as an amazing example.
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“When [couples are] in that position, a lot of people wonder if their child [with Down syndrome] would actually get adopted,” Ms. Grover said. “There’s a lot of people waiting, and we are happy to always help.”
David Dufresne, a seminary student who plans to become a priest next year, volunteered to help the overwhelmed church staff take calls.
“I was taking calls for about three hours straight, just talking to people who are willing to adopt this little baby they never knew about until that morning,” Mr. Dufresne said. “I mean, all day long, just receiving phone calls from people who were so generous and within a couple minutes made a life-changing decision. I was really inspired by the goodness of people and what they would do to save a life.”