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 CNS Story:

ALASKA-DOWN Apr-30-2008 (680 words) xxxn

Alaskan governor praised for response to her Down syndrome child

By Joel Davidson
Catholic News Service

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (CNS) -- Local Catholic leaders and advocates for the disabled praised Gov. Sarah Palin and her husband, Todd, for fully embracing the arrival of their fifth child, who was born with Down syndrome April 18.

In a statement, the Palin family said they knew, through early testing, that Trig Paxon Van Palin "would face special challenges."

Despite Trig's disability, the Palins said they felt "privileged that God would entrust us with this gift and allow us unspeakable joy as he entered our lives."

The Palin family's public comments stand in contrast to the stark reality of statistics showing that more than 90 percent of women who receive a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome choose to abort the child.

Several Catholic leaders expressed admiration for the way the governor and her family embraced their new baby.

"It is a beautiful witness, especially for someone who is so public like the governor," Anchorage Archbishop Roger L. Schwietz told the Catholic Anchor, the archdiocesan newspaper. "Clearly her actions are a public witness to the fact that every child is a gift. This is what the pro-abortion people don't want to admit to."

Mercy Sister Kathleen O'Hara assists people with disabilities at the Joy Community of Providence Alaska Medical Center in Anchorage. Two days after Palin gave birth to her son, members of the Joy Community and their families gathered to celebrate Mass at the hospital.

"People who had Down syndrome births were so thrilled with Palin's response," Sister O'Hara said. "It says a great deal for their deep and abiding faith that they knew they were going to have a hard road ahead and they were willing to do this."

Anchorage resident Natalie Carey has a son in his 30s with Down syndrome and is an active supporter of the Joy Community.

At age 44, Palin was roughly the same age as Carey was when she gave birth to her son three decades ago. Carey was well aware that the chances of having a Down syndrome child increase substantially after age 35.

"When I found out Palin was pregnant, I was concerned about that," Carey said, "but I had every confidence in her because of her right-to-life stance."

"They are such untold blessings," Carey said of children with Down syndrome. "It is a very special world."

Palin is one of the most popular governors in the country; her decisions are watched closely and scores of media outlets and Internet sites around the country have already reported on the birth of her child. Several reports noted the governor's public witness to the dignity of all human life.

Last year, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommended that all pregnant women receive the option to test for Down syndrome. Previously, only women 35 years and older were offered the test.

The lead author of that recommendation told The New York Times last year, "There are many couples who do not want to have a baby with Down syndrome." She added that wider testing gives parents a choice on whether to abort.

With the total Down syndrome population in the U.S. now at 350,000, the article stated that many parents worry that dwindling numbers might lead to less medical research and lonelier lives for those who remain.

Judy Waldron is president of the Alaska chapter of the National Down Syndrome Congress, a local support group for families.

"It is a fact," she said, "that as they detect Down syndrome more, they are being aborted more and more."

While her organization does not take a stand on the abortion issue, Waldron said parents should know that many resources are available to help parents of children with Down syndrome.

"We offer parent-to-parent counseling and support," she said.

Waldron has a 19-year-old daughter with Down syndrome and said she has experienced great joys as a parent.

"It is really rewarding," she said. "With a lot of the normal developmental things, you have to work harder ... but they are also more rewarding."


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