One of the most important voices to emerge in the current abortion debate is the organisation Disability Voices for Life who made a powerful debut last week.
Their moving and compelling testimonies attracted widespread media attention as they drew public focus to the heart-breaking reality of what abortion has meant for babies diagnosed with Down Syndrome and other disabilities.
See what Caitríona Cronin, Anne Trainer, Conor O’Dowd and Michael O’Dowd said on this issue:
Caitríona is mother to Joseph Cronin, a Donegal boy with Down syndrome, who gives a human face to the shocking fact that 90% of babies with the condition have their lives ended before birth in other jurisdictions.
“In recent days, it has felt like there has been a campaign to silence families like my own. We have heard misleading claims cloaked in alleged concern for people like Joseph, when the cold, hard, facts speak for themselves. In countries with legal abortion along the lines the government wishes to introduce, people like Joseph disappear at astonishing and cruel rates.
“We want people to see Joseph for what he is - a smart adorable funny little boy who has a right to life here in Ireland when in so many other countries that right to life has been taken away. 90% of children like Joseph are now aborted after a prenatal diagnosis in Britain, and that means something, it’s not just a number. We want Joseph to grow up in a culture where people with disabilities are loved and valued and cherished. How can that happen when most babies with disabilities are being aborted – when they are no longer being born?”
Conor O'Dowd who has Down Syndrome
Hello, my name is Conor O'Dowd. I am 23. I love my life. I took today off college to be here. This is a very important day. I am against abortion.
Michael O’Dowd, Disability Voices for Life
My name is Michael O’Dowd and I am the father of Conor. I am a member of Down Syndrome Ireland and a disability activist having recently helped set up a Disability Action group for Drogheda and its Environs.
I'm a member of Down Syndrome Ireland. I've sat on the board in the past. There are very different views in Down Syndrome Ireland on this issue, but I won't be silenced.
There is a phrase in disability activism ‘ nothing about us without us’ However, once we raised our voices it appears that we cannot speak about abortion.
The days of putting people with Special needs in the back room, out of sight, out of mind are over.
This campaign is about celebrating diversity , its about celebrating life.
We would not have felt obliged to speak out were it not for the relentless campaign from some quarters telling us to stay silent. This past week, it has felt like our existence is inconvenient for some supporters of the abortion referendum, and that they would rather we went away and were quiet.
We will not. It is a cold, hard, undeniable fact that when abortion is introduced, those children diagnosed with some form of disability suffer a disproportionate impact. If people think that will not happen here, they are willfully kidding themselves. It has happened everywhere else
The campaign against us has been quite disturbing. During the debate on the Citizens assembly when they recommended abortion on grounds of non fatal foetal anomalies i.e. disability , I heard no voices challenging that recommendation or talking about how upset they were then.
The Oireachteas Committee happily spoke about disability without inviting any representative organization in to counter the negative stereotypes that were being portrayed.
Yet now when we as parents dare to challenge the real probability regarding termination of lives of people with disabilities we hear objections. Incredibly those objections are to our right to put forward our views. We are upsetting people , and my god ‘ They might hear what we have to say’ It’s a real throwback to the bad old days of ‘ O God love them , sure aren’t they great’
I wish I didn’t have to stand here but frankly as I look across Europe I have no choice. In every single country where abortion has been introduced the rate of terminations of people with Down syndrome has increased. The continent is sleepwalking into a situation where people with Down syndrome will scarcely exist. The battle line needs to be drawn. Today we are drawing that line here and now in Ireland. Ireland can do better.
Anne Trainer, Disability Voices for Life
My name is Anne Trainer and I am mother to an amazing little boy called Kevin who has Down Syndrome. I came here today because I wanted to say I have been appalled that media commentators and abortion campaigners sought to dictate terms to families of children with disabilities in regard to what we could and could not say, and whether photographs of our children should be seen. I have found this upsetting, judgemental and intimidating.
I love my son more than life itself and it breaks my heart to see that abortion is eliminating his community. Parents like me have an absolute right to include our children and our families in this debate, since they are central to the discussion and often wish to make their own voices heard. We refuse to hide them away. We want to remind the Irish people that people with disabilities have a right to life, and we will not go back to the time when people with disabilities were put out of sight and ignored.
We have every right to express our deep concern at the proposal to introduce abortion into the country. In reality, babies with a disability are aborted in disproportionate numbers, with 90% being aborted in Britain. This reality is absolutely heart-breaking and the reality is that abortion discriminates against babies diagnosed with a disability. This is the real disrespect to both children and adults with Down syndrome and their families. This is what has caused real sorrow and stress to parents.
I want Ireland to keep a culture of loving and protecting children like my son. I won’t be silenced in this debate.
- British Department of Health: Report on abortion statistics in England and Wales for 2016
- National Down Syndrome Cytogenic Register (NDSCR) for England and Wales, Annual Report 2013
- Danish Cytogenetic Central Register 2010-2016 - http://www.auh.dk/siteassets/afdelinger/klinisk-genetisk-afdeling/dccr/pdf/downs-syndrom-1970-2016.pdf
- German rates: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1471-0528.2008.01700.x/full