IMOGEN Leslie stood up in a packed forum inside Queensland Parliament House last week to deliver an important message to MPs about abortion and disability.
“I have Down syndrome and my life is worth living,” the 12-year-old from Warwick said at a forum convened by pro-life advocates to discuss the state’s proposed bill to legalise abortion.
“If I was to be in a family that was going to have a baby with Down syndrome I would tell them ‘don’t be scared’.
“I would tell them your baby will be cute – just like me.”
Imogen shared her experience of life’s joy in the face of disability, as a member of a panel that included doctors, nurses and people with life experience facing an abortion.
Imogen and her mother Rachel Leslie urged politicians to consider the disability community before debating the abortion bill.
Speaking on the panel, Mrs Leslie shared her experience of the pressure placed on families to terminate a pregnancy if prenatal tests indicated their child would be born with a disability.
“I was just overjoyed to be pregnant with my first child and so incredibly optimistic,” she said.
“When my daughter’s diagnosis came through at 16 hours old, we were shocked – absolutely.
“But what really got me were the ‘I’m sorrys’ as though a diagnosis of Down syndrome was the worst thing that could ever have happened to us.
“Fast-forward to my second pregnancy, and the obstetrician who delivered Imogen was shocked that I was not going to get any prenatal testing again.”
Mrs Leslie described her shock when a sonographer berated her for opting out of prenatal testing in her third pregnancy, questioning why she would “risk bringing another mongoloid child into this world”.
“In one very quick moment he had completely devalued the life of my eldest child, suggesting that her life simply wasn’t worth living,” Mrs Leslie said.
But Imogen assured those attending the forum that her life was worth living.
“If you have a baby who has Down syndrome you will actually love your baby,” she said.
“You will be so proud when they say their first and second words.”
Mrs Leslie urged politicians to implement mandatory counselling and a cooling-off period for mothers and families with a prenatal diagnosis of disability.
“It would allow people to get a variety of opinions,” she said.
“If you only listen to the GP you are really only listening to one side and it is not a positive side.”
In 2016, the American Journal of Medical Genetics published research that found in 87 per cent of families surveyed, everyone – parents and siblings – said they loved their family member who had Down syndrome, and almost as many families said they felt pride for the child.
Few families expressed any regret about having a child with Down syndrome, the researchers reported.