WASHINGTON A bill to protect the lives of unborn children diagnosed with disabilities has passed both chambers of Congress and is awaiting President Bush's signature.
The Prenatally and Postnatally Diagnosed Conditions Awareness Act, sponsored by Sen. Sam Brownback, R.-Kan., and Sen. Ted Kennedy, D.-Mass., would provide support and balanced information to parents who receive a diagnosis of Down syndrome or any other condition prenatally or until a year after birth.
"One of the most difficult and vulnerable moments in the life of an expectant mother is when she learns she is going to have a child with a disability or medical condition," Brownback wrote in an opinion piece carried by National Review Online Sept. 30.
"Access to the best support and information about the condition can make all the difference to a woman and her family. Hopefully, our bill is the start of something new: real help for families, deepened respect for the value of every life especially those with disabilities and one step closer to the kind of America we all know is possible," Brownback wrote.
The Senate passed the bill Sept. 23, and the House passed it two days later in what Brownback said was "a great victory for expecting parents who learn that their unborn child may be born with a disability."
The bill requires parents who receive a diagnosis of an impairment for their child be provided with the latest information on the condition and be informed of support services available. It also would establish a registry of families willing to adopt special needs children.
Studies indicate that in the United States, between 80 and 90 percent of children diagnosed in the womb with Down syndrome are aborted. A similar abortion percentage exists for unborn babies diagnosed with spina bifida, cystic fibrosis and dwarfism, according to a release from Brownback's office.
"America is poorer because of this. To deny children with disabilities a chance at life will make us more insensitive, callous, and jaded and will take away from the diversity of American life," Brownback wrote in the opinion piece. "Roe v. Wade has made it not only possible but Constitutional to deny that fundamental right to life to a whole class of people, simply because of their genetic makeup. We are poorer without them, without their amazing gifts, and without their wonderful, unconditional love."
Brownback mentioned Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the Republican nominee for vice president, who learned through prenatal testing that her fifth child, Trig, would be born with Down syndrome. Palin reportedly said at the time that ending the pregnancy was not an option because "every innocent life has wonderful potential."
"Sadly, for many in the medical community, these special children do not hold the same value," Brownback wrote. "They argue that these children are a burden on their parents and on society, and this is why they recommend that their lives be terminated before they have a chance to begin.
"This 'eugenics mentality' is behind much of the recent push to expand prenatal testing, with the argument that it is better for everyone to weed out these lives before they are born than to bear the emotional and financial cost of taking care of them after they are born," the senator added.
In the National Review Online article, Brownback also noted that a couple of doctors in Canada have expressed publicly their fear that Palin's experience with a Down syndrome baby will inspire other women to make the same decision and not end their pregnancies.
"The irony is that if children with Down Syndrome make it out of the womb, their prospects in life are brighter than ever. Children and adults with Down Syndrome are often the centerpieces of their families. They have amazing gifts and are full of affection. Many adults with Down Syndrome have jobs, live independently, and make valuable contributions to the communities in which they live," Brownback wrote.
"We now understand that with early intervention and access to proper therapies, individuals with Down Syndrome can achieve a level of health and intellectual development not dreamed of even a decade ago," he wrote. "And yet, their prospects of being born are dimmer than ever, largely because of misconceptions that the medical community itself is actively fostering."
Melissa Wagoner, a spokeswoman for Kennedy, said after the Senate passed the bill unanimously, "Access to the best support and information about the condition, and the quality of life for a child born with that condition, can make all the difference to a woman trying to make an informed and difficult decision. Senator Kennedy believes this kind of support is a vital element to strengthening a true culture of life in America."
A call to Brownback's office to inquire about when the president is expected to sign the legislation was not returned by press time.