THE LAST WORD: World Down Syndrome Day celebrates precious lives

Kerry Hubartt

World Down Syndrome Day on Thursday made me thankful for where I live and for the lives of my two Down syndrome grandchildren, Joy and Ezekiel.

The occasion was first officially observed in 2012 to raise awareness of Down syndrome. March 21 (3-21) represents the three copies of the 21st chromosome — a genetic occurrence common in people with Trisomy 21, the most common form of Down syndrome.

The Down Syndrome Diagnosis Network reports that about one in every 800 babies born has this condition, and there are 250,000 Americans with Down syndrome, most of whom function normally, speak reasonably well, maintain personal hygiene and work independently by the time they are young adults. Many excel in various activities.

In celebration of World Down Syndrome Day, the Down Syndrome Association of Northeast Indiana and Gigi’s Playhouse of Fort Wayne hosted a sock-hop and the City of Fort Wayne lit up the Martin Luther King Jr. Bridge in blue and yellow, the colors of Down syndrome awareness.

I am personally grateful for efforts in Indiana to help blunt the impact of Roe v. Wade in this state through legislation and other efforts to save the lives of unborn babies, including those with Down syndrome. Former Rep. Casey Cox (R-District 85) of Fort Wayne authored a bill that would ban abortions sought because of a fetus’ genetic abnormality (such as Down syndrome), gender, race or ancestry.

The Indiana House passed House Enrolled Act 1337 by a 60-40 vote in March 2016, and then-Gov. Mike Pence signed it into law.

But the day before the law would have taken effect in July, Indiana U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Walton Pratt granted a preliminary injunction against the legislation, sought by the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, who sued the state that April, saying the law is unconstitutional and violates women’s privacy rights. Pratt made her injunction permanent in September 2017.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Pratt’s ruling in April 2018. Indiana’s Republican Attorney General Curtis Hill Jr. filed a petition in October asking the Supreme Court to allow the law to take effect. But the ACLU of Indiana and PPINK told the court it should reject his petition.

The raging resistance to the right to life of the unborn seems to be spurring an American civil war over the issue of abortion. Nine states (Alaska, Colorado, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, and Vermont), along with Washington, D.C., have passed laws that allow abortion up until childbirth, while other states like Indiana are fighting on the side of the right to life.

In fact, a coalition of 19 state attorneys general urged the Supreme Court to safeguard state laws that ban discriminatory abortions based on the sex, race or disability of the unborn child.

The coalition, led by Wisconsin, included Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and West Virginia. The Arkansas Senate, in fact, approved a measure on Wednesday prohibiting doctors from performing abortions because of a Down syndrome diagnosis.

The coalition filed a friend-of-the-court brief in November that opposes the ruling of the 7th Circuit Court against the Indiana law, saying the ruling “exhibits unprecedented and unlawful hostility to each state’s authority to honor human life and dignity,” according to the West Virginia Record.

“Surely,” the brief continues, “a state that has the constitutional authority to protect members of the Down syndrome community from being discriminated against in employment or public accommodations can protect that same community from wholesale elimination by eugenic practices.”

The brief asks the Supreme Court to grant review of the 7th Circuit’s ruling that permanently blocked enforcement of Indiana HB 1337.

While the Supreme Court decided in January it would not hear an appeal this term due to a full docket, it’s possible it could set a hearing date next term.

Unfortunately, at this time the state can proceed with abortions targeting Down syndrome babies. An estimated 67 percent of babies in the U.S. diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted. The rates are even higher worldwide. In England and Wales it’s 90 percent, and in Iceland it’s nearly 100 percent.

My dear grandchildren certainly face difficulties in their lives, but Joy and Ezekiel are loved as much as any of the grandchildren in our family. My two oldest children and their spouses chose to adopt these precious babies, one from South Korea and one from Hong Kong. And we are grateful they had that opportunity because someone in those countries chose to let them live.

Kerry Hubartt is former editor of The News-Sentinel.