Girl with Down syndrome speaks at abortion forum

Girl's speech on abortion brings house to tears

"DON'T be scared", was the message that bought a packed room at Parliament House to tears when Imogen Leslie stood up to tell policymakers why her life is worth living.

With heartfelt sincerity, Imogen shared her experience of fun, success and fulfilment in the face of disability when she confronted a controversial topic that baffles some adults.

The 12-year-old Warwick student joined doctors and lawyers on the expert panel on Queensland's proposed abortion legislation on Tuesday.

Drawing on first-hand experience of life with Down syndrome, Imogen and her mother Rachel Leslie urged politicians to consider the disability community when deciding on a bill to legalise pregnancy termination in Queensland.

"The legislation has the opportunity to advance the cause of those with a disability," Mrs Leslie said.

Speaking on the panel, Mrs Leslie shared her fears about how "inaccurate" and "biased" views could sway families' decisions on whether to terminate a pregnancy if prenatal testing indicated likelihood of a child being born with a disability.

SPEAKING UP: Year 7 student from Warwick, Imogen was born with Down syndrome but that hasn't stopped her from living a happy and fulfilling life.
SPEAKING UP: Year 7 student from Warwick, Imogen was born with Down syndrome but that hasn't stopped her from living a happy and fulfilling life. Marian Faa

"My big concern is that individual bias will play a part and that it will come from people who are not necessarily experienced with disability," she said.

Mrs Leslie shared her personal battle against prejudice.

From the countless "apologies" she received after her daughter's diagnosis with Down syndrome to "offensive" comments from professionals, Mrs Leslie said a negative view of disability pervaded the medical system.

She described her shock when a Queensland X-ray 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 daughter, suggested that her life was not worth living," Mrs Leslie said.

But Imogen stood up to assure the world those assumptions couldn't be less true.

 

QUICK DASH: You wouldn't know it, but Imogen only had three days to prepare for her speech after one of the panellists had to pull out of the event.
QUICK DASH: You wouldn't know it, but Imogen only had three days to prepare for her speech after one of the panellists had to pull out of the event. Marian Faa

"I have Down syndrome and my life is worth living," Imogen said.

A Year 7 student at the School of Total Education, Imogen has started to represent Australia for running and is becoming a well-known public speaker.

In April she was the first person with Down syndrome to participate in the Queensland Rostrum Voice of Youth.

But life is much more than awards and public achievements for Imogen.

It's about love, family and getting along with life like any other child.

"If you have a baby who has Down syndrome you will actually love your baby," she said in her speech.

"You will be so proud when they say their first and second words."

Mrs Leslie said she did not align with the "pro-life" movement, but 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."

Statistics from Western Australia published in 2015 indicate 93 per cent of prenatal Down syndrome diagnoses lead to terminations.

"You really should be given time to think about it, plus accurate information," Mrs Leslie said.

Exposing expectant parents to first-hand experiences of disability could create more balanced views in the wider community, Mrs Leslie said.

LOTS OF LOVE: Leslie and mother Rachel Leslie are urging politicians to consider the disability community when they draft new legislation.
LOTS OF LOVE: Leslie and mother Rachel Leslie are urging politicians to consider the disability community when they draft new legislation. Marian Faa


Free 24-hour support from female counsellors is available through Pregnancy Counselling Australia on 1300 RESPECT or http://www.pregnancycounselling.com.au/our-services.htm



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