2018 Gerber Baby Shines Light on Special Needs Community

By Eileen Haupt

Editor’s note. This appeared in the February digital edition of National Right to Life News. Please read the entire 38-page issue and pass stories along to your pro-life family and friends.

Last Wednesday, I awoke to the happy news that an 18-month-old boy with Down syndrome had been chosen as this year’s “Gerber Spokesbaby!” The announcement was made on the Today Show, in an interview with the parents, Jason and Courtney Warren, and their now famous son, Lucas.

In a video shown during the interview, Courtney tells us, “I never met anyone [who has] come in contact with Lucas and not smiled.” This is a typical reaction from people when they encounter a little one with Down syndrome; they spread their infectious joy!

From the Today Show news story: “Every year, we choose the baby who best exemplifies Gerber’s longstanding heritage of recognizing that every baby is a Gerber baby,” said [CEO and President of Gerber Bill] Partyka. “This year, Lucas is the perfect fit.”

This is the first time a baby with Down syndrome has been chosen for this honor. For parents of children with Down syndrome, this is a proud moment, to know that children like theirs can be recognized as a “Gerber Baby,” just like other babies.

This is a far cry from the days, when only several decades ago, parents were told to put their newborn with Down syndrome in an institution and forget they were ever born. So much has changed.

Laws now protect the rights of those with special needs, such as ensuring they have equal access to education. There is much more understanding and acceptance of people with disabilities. More than ever, individuals with Down syndrome are reaching their potential, and we are discovering that they are capable of doing so much more than had previously been thought.

There is so much to celebrate. People with Down syndrome are living healthier, longer, and more enriching lives than ever before.

And yet, there is a dark cloud that overshadows this sunny optimism.

Even though there has never been a better time, in the history of the world, to bring a baby with Down syndrome into the world, overwhelmingly most pregnant mothers who receive a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome for their baby will choose to abort their child.

According to a study published in 2012, the rate of abortion for babies prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome in the United States, is estimated to be 74%. In some European countries it is even higher–approximately 90% in England, 98% in Denmark, and a shocking 100% in Iceland!

Ironically, it was a Today Show segment 19 years ago when my daughter with Down syndrome was an infant that catapulted me into the pro-life movement.

A guest gynecologist casually suggested that a pregnant mother could decide whether to terminate her pregnancy, after a positive result from amniocentesis. Her dismissive attitude toward the unborn child with special needs was shocking to me. My first act of advocacy was to write to the Today Show host and the guest gynecologist. (I received no reply.)

Just as I believe that the 1999 Today Show segment had an influence on the number of mother who chose to abort their unborn baby with Down syndrome, I believe this Today Show’s coverage of the new Gerber Spokesbaby with an extra 21st chromosome, will encourage more pregnant mothers to bring their unborn child with Down syndrome to birth.

As Lucas’s mom Courtney says in the Today Show video, “I hope it sheds light on the special needs community. Showing that they are just like you and me. They should be accepted, not based on their look, but based on who they are.”

I hope and pray for that acceptance to begin in the womb.

Congratulations to Lucas and his parents, and thank you to Gerber and the Today Show, for shedding light on the special needs community!

Editor’s note. Eileen Haupt is the mother of two daughters, one of whom has Down syndrome. She is co-founder of Keep Infants with Down Syndrome (KIDS), and an alternate delegate from Vermont to the National Right to Life Committee Board of Directors.