A mother of an actor with Down’s syndrome says that she is “really thankful” that she was never offered pre-natal testing for Down’s syndrome.
Tommy Jessop has Down’s syndrome and stars in the BBC’s crime drama Line of Duty. The plot is loosely inspired by the 1999 murder of Jill Dando, and Tommy plays a local man with learning difficulties who became a suspect of the murder.
It is rare for people with Down’s syndrome to be given such prominent roles and despite the fact that Tommy had expressed a wish from an early age to be an actor, his mother, Jane Jessop, admits that she was initially sceptical. “We didn’t really believe him. We were thinking: ‘Well, Tommy likes books, why doesn’t he work in the library?’”
But by the time he was 20, he was already starring in mainstream theatre productions and his career has only become more impressive ever since.
However, his prospects in life were not always so good. When his mother Jane was told by doctors in 1985 that her newborn son had Down’s syndrome, she was “very worried” about how the diagnosis might affect her other child and wondered whether other mothers would look at her differently.
In his first year “Tommy’s prognosis was very poor”.
However, Jane urged other parents with a similar diagnosis not to “believe all those pessimistic forecasts. When Tommy turned one, he kind of woke up. It was as though the sun came out; he became smiley and started learning. He reacted to everything, whereas he hadn’t in his first year. When we came into the room, he would bounce up and down. He attracted love”.
Tommy overcame his initial difficulties but his mother is concerned about the prospect that at some point, people like him might be eliminated from the population entirely. Non-invasive prenatal testing is now offered to all pregnant women and the latest data shows that around 90% of women have an abortion when they receive a positive diagnosis that their baby has Down’s syndrome.
“I’m really thankful I was never offered a test, because that is a horrible decision for parents to take. It’s ironic: now [people with Down’s syndrome] finally have the chance to learn and show us who they really are, and society and scientists are trying to deprive them of the chance to live. I’m not talking about abortion itself, I’m just talking about the choice of doing it because a child will have Down’s [syndrome]. I think having a child with Down’s syndrome is all about love”.
Disability abortion in Northern Ireland
As Westminster attempts to intervene in Northern Ireland’s abortion laws once more, the Severe Fetal Impairment Abortion (Amendment) Bill last month passed its second stage at the Northern Ireland Assembly by 48 votes to 12. The Bill, launched by Paul Givan MLA, will provide protections for babies in the womb with disabilities such as Down’s syndrome, who currently can be aborted up to term.
Almost 28,000 people have signed a petition in support of the Bill and 1,608 people with Down’s syndrome and their families signed an open letter to party leaders in Northern Ireland urging them to support the Bill.
Right To Life UK spokesperson, Catherine Robinson, said: “Right To Life UK has covered a number of stories of women who have chosen life for their babies with Down’s syndrome. In many cases after initial fear and anxiety, the mother and her family realised that babies with Down’s syndrome, despite their difficulties, are just as precious as every other baby, and, as this story shows, are as capable as anyone else of leading full and happy lives”.