Mother: Pols should focus on helping children with Down syndrome, not abortion bans

Emily Chesnut with her daughter Nora. Photo provided.

My name is Emily Chesnut and I am a mother of a child with Down syndrome, her name is Nora and she recently turned 9. I write this to on behalf of my family and many friends who also love someone with Down syndrome.  I am especially thankful to Dr. Leesha Thrower, a dear friend who has also spoken out on this issue. 

When the Down syndrome abortion ban was signed into law in late 2017 I was incredibly disappointed and angry. Then-Gov. John Kasich and state legislators were using my child as a political tool to promote their anti-abortion agenda. They do not care about Nora. If they did, they would be using their valuable time to make sure that every child born with Down syndrome has what they need to live a healthy, full life. 

They should have been drafting a bill to guarantee affordable health insurance coverage for the medical treatments and therapy children with Down syndrome need. Half of all individuals with Down syndrome have congenital heart defects, including Nora who had open heart surgery at 7 months old.

Individuals with Down syndrome are more likely to have issues with their eyes, Nora has had eye surgery. They are more likely to have gastrointestinal issues, respiratory issues, thyroid issues, hearing issues/ hearing loss. And the list goes on. And the good news is that these medical issues are treatable with positive outcomes — but only if you can afford it.  

I expected my elected officials to speak up for my family and my community, not to use my daughter and her peers as a pawn in a political effort that is only going to harm people who are pregnant and make it harder for them to make the right decision for them and their families.

Having a child with Down syndrome was life-changing and has given me new paths in life that I never would have found before Nora. I advocate so that future families see more positives than negatives, so that inclusion is the norm, so that a diagnosis of Down syndrome isn’t as scary.  

No parent should have to embark on this journey uninformed. They should be able to have a frank, honest conversation with their doctor about what it will mean to have a child with Down syndrome. They should have all the information and be encouraged to ask more questions, so they can make this very personal decision freely, without the presence of politicians in the exam room.  

This abortion ban does nothing to help with that. If anything, it will prevent women and families from feeling like they can speak openly to their doctors after receiving a fetal diagnosis. 

I understand that talking about Down syndrome tugs at heartstrings. I understand the fierce pride and protectiveness that parents of children with Down syndrome feel. I feel it too. But this case is not about Down syndrome. It is not about protecting our children or making their lives better. 

This case is about putting another hurdle in front of people who have abortions. Decisions about whether and when to continue or to end a pregnancy or raise a child are best made by the pregnant person and their family, not politicians.

That is why I, along with so many others, support the ACLU of Ohio, Planned Parenthood, and Preterm as they fight this battle in court. Oral arguments will take place at the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday, March 11.

I hope the court does the right thing, and I hope that politicians will finally get the message and stop using my child to play politically divisive games with family decision making.