By Nadia Maria Smith
CS&T Staff Writer
KIDS, which stands for Keep Children with Down syndrome, was the newest group to attend the 2009 March for Life in Washington, D.C., last week.
Started by two mothers who each have a child with Down syndrome, KIDS is a national initiative to bring awareness to the high percentage of pre-born children identified with the syndrome who are aborted each year, according to founders Eileen Haupt and Leticia Velasquez.
“Our purpose is to raise awareness about the 90 percent abortion rate among infants with Down syndrome,” said Haupt, who was drawn to the pro-life movement after her daughter Sadie was born with Down syndrome 10 years ago. “When I first read about it, I almost fell out of my chair. It’s a shocking number and I think it’s so high because of the medical community, societal prejudices and misinformation.”
Before the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion on demand nationwide in 1973 virtually all children with trisomy 21, or Down syndrome, were born. Things have changed drastically today since genetic testing has become routine and as many as 90 percent of women whose babies are prenatally diagnosed with the genetic condition choose to abort the child.
“Now the American College of Obstetrics says that every woman should have prenatal testing, so it’s not just older moms anymore,” Haupt said. “Then women are given negative information about Down syndrome which reflects our own societal prejudices that see it as a very negative thing that we don’t want.”
Christina Bogdan, a member of St. Bede the Venerable Parish in Holland, has attended the March for Life for the past four years with her husband and 10 children because of her son, Andrew, who has Down syndrome. She also experienced the pressure to abort through genetic counseling when she discovered her child might be born with Down syndrome.
“You don’t even realize that there is an industry out there that does not want the birth of children with disabilities to occur,” Bogdan said. “They were not so much concerned about the child’s health, but focused on how we were going to deal with it. Their biggest defense is the quality of life issue. People are being lied to and even if [these children] don’t have the quality of life we expect, who is to say and determine that?”
That’s why she is thrilled to be able to march with KIDS this year, she said.
She found out about the new group through Velasquez, the cofounder of the group and a popular pro-life blogger and freelance writer for a number of national Catholic publications. Velasquez’s daughter, Christina, has Down syndrome.
“As soon as Andrew saw Sadie and Christina, his eyes lit up,” Bogdan said. “They never met before, but they were so excited to see each other. He saw children all day, but he was just so excited to see them because I think it is important for him to see that there are other children that are like him and are his age.”
“Prenatal testing can’t tell you the joy that your child will bring to the family or the feeling of being very blessed about having this child,” Haupt said.
Before having her child, Haupt described herself as “personally pro-life.” She didn’t think much about whether it should be legal or not and took the approach, “I would never get an abortion, but who am I to tell others what to do?” she said. “But I didn’t know what was going on.”
The more she got involved in her local pro-life groups, the more she resolved to be a voice for the unborn. Also the witness of so many Catholics in the movement eventually drew her back to full communion with the Catholic Church. Her husband followed suit and that is just one way their daughter has made a positive impact on their lives, she said.
Now she is on the board of the Vermont Right to Life Committee and is the Alternate Delegate from Vermont to the board of the National Right to Life Committee.
She hopes that KIDS will become a concrete voice in the community bringing awareness to the joys of having a child with Down syndrome.
“We want to show people that these are our children; we love them and it’s a joy,” she said. “It can be a positive thing in our lives. It’s not to say you aren’t sad or scared at first but you come to find out that your child is a unique blessing and has a lot to contribute to the world. They really touch so many people.”
Bogdan knows several families in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia with Down syndrome children who share the same desire to spread the good news about children with disabilities, so she hopes to start a Philadelphia chapter of KIDS, she said.
For more information about KIDS, contact Eileen Haupt at email@example.com.
CS&T staff writer Nadia Maria Smith may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (215) 965-4614.