'Shame on him' - mother hits out at Harris over Down syndrome remark
The mother of a young man with Down syndrome has hit out at the Health Minister for criticising the No campaign for drawing the issue of her son's condition into the abortion referendum debate.
The Irish Independent previously reported that around half of women who are told their babies will be born with Down syndrome opted to have a termination, according to figures from the country's three main maternity hospitals.
Those women availed of tests after the 12th or 13th week of pregnancy when a more definitive test is available.
Referring to a screening test which can be carried out at between nine and 12 weeks gestation, Master of Holles Street Rhona Mahony said the test is 99pc predictive.
She said around 1,000 women who attend the hospital each year opt for the test.
"It looks like 50pc continue and not continue [with their pregnancies]," she said.
Dr Mahony said Down syndrome was not just one condition. She pointed out some of these babies will not survive, or will suffer complications such as heart defects, while others will be born healthy.
Health Minister Simon Harris said it was "upsetting for people with Down syndrome in Ireland to say that they're only born because the Eighth Amendment is here".
"The facts don't bear that out, and it's really actually quite disgusting to say to these parents," he added.
However, Audrey O'Dowd, whose son Conor (23) has launched a video calling for a No vote, said the minister's comments do not represent them.
"Shame on the minister for saying that. My son has every right to speak out, no less than the minister has the right to speak out.
"It doesn't represent my son and it doesn't represent me," she said.
Parents are "extremely concerned" behind the scenes, she said, adding: "Minister Harris should be putting in the supports we need, not eliminating us."
As he canvassed for a Yes vote yesterday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the use of people with Down syndrome in referendum posters was wrong.
"I think it's wrong because we've made it very clear in the proposed legislation that disability will not be grounds for ending a pregnancy," he said.
Love Both campaign spokeswoman Cora Sherlock said the proposed legislation would lead to pregnancies being ended due to a screening test indicating Down syndrome.
When asked to point to the wording which opened the door to termination for Down syndrome, she said: "It's not really up to us to pinpoint where it opens the door to [terminations due to] Down syndrome, the reality is it's the minister's proposal and it's up to him to point to where the restriction is, and the reality is he can't do that."
She also criticised Mr Harris for not engaging in debates on the referendum: "I keep asking and other people keep asking where is the minister and why has he not debated this proposal so far?"
It is understood Mr Harris will take part in at least one high-profile, televised debate before May 25.