21. The chromosome that determines if you’re born with round eyes or almond ones. If your nose will be curved or flat. If your tongue rests inside your mouth or prefers to rest just outside. That one blessed autosome that determines so much and yet so little all at once. I know I’m not alone in this sentiment, but I have a particular love for that one extra-special, twenty-first band. Its presence has so much influence. It brings some difficulties and trials to be certain … but then again … not a single human being has a genetic map that excludes them from challenges. That twenty-first exception also brings with it a beautiful ability to see with perfect clarity so much that those of us with just two twenty-ones simply can’t see.
Today, I find myself grappling with a human-rights tragedy that is far too easily dismissed. Our babies, our special Down syndrome babies, are quite literally being removed from our society. Here are a few recent stats:
- New Fluorescent In Situ Hybridization (FISH) testing is being done via blood sampling. Tests like this increase pre-natal diagnostics of Down syndrome because an amniocentesis is no longer necessary.
- Between 50% and 85% of babies diagnosed with Down Syndrome during pre-natal testing are aborted.
- In 2006, Denmark introduced a public healthcare program that included routine screened for Down syndrome.
- Between 2008 and 2012, ZERO babies with Down syndrome were born in Iceland. You read that right—ZERO. I hope you are prompted to ask why.
These statistics should scare us. They should break our hearts. I literally cannot imagine a world without Down syndrome. I have no doubt that as a civilization, we would be irreparably damaged without the presence of those who have Down syndrome. Said plainly—the world would be a worse place.
So what can the Church do? I believe this crisis presents an evangelical opportunity for believers. We need to become trail blazers against this genocide, advocating for the rights of the unborn affected by disability. We can be the light that leads people to see the value in EVERY life. And in the process, we can share the reason why we value these unborn babies affected by disability: because we believe them to be perfectly and intentionally created by God, with a purpose. Their lives are invaluable to us. Jesus loves them. The Church loves them.
Abelism is defined as “discrimination or prejudice against individuals with disabilities.” Abelism characterizes persons as defined by their disabilities and as inferior to the non-disabled. We should be outraged at the idea of ableism and should be working against it with an unceasing intensity. Let me be clear: at this time, prenatal diagnosis and subsequent abortions are primarily occurring with our Down syndrome population. But, I do not believe it will not stop there. Abortion stats will likely begin to rise at an alarming rate in all areas of disability. So, where do we draw the line? Once we develop genetic mapping for autism, do we eliminate that? How about asthma? Is that something we care to eradicate?
The Church can’t simply profess to love and honor those affected by disability without putting action behind those words. We have a responsibility to our unborn brothers and sisters as well. Down syndrome is not a condition to be eliminated. It is not a problem to be resolved. It is a gift to be treasured. It is a blessing to be protected. We must have a drastic heart change to embrace these truths as we seek to change the hearts of others. We have a real opportunity to lead the way in this humanitarian crisis … let’s not waste it.
Gina Spivey is the Director of Special Needs Ministries at Calvary Community Church in Westlake, CA. She came to this role after over a decade in the clinical field working with children with a variety of developmental disabilities.