Feature

Why the media ignored the inspiring, amazing Karen Gaffney

Karen Gaffney.

Niamh Uí Bhriain

By any standards, Karen Gaffney is an extraordinary person. A long-distance swimmer who relay swam the English Channel, she is an impressive and witty public speaker whose TED talk on inclusion for people with disabilities has captured global attention. 

She is also the first living person with Down Syndrome to receive an honorary doctorate, and is admired, not only for her personal achievements, but for her challenge to a culture where babies with Down Syndrome are increasingly aborted before birth.

The Irish media, it seems, isn’t ready for that challenge. During her recent visit, we experienced a blanket refusal by the mainstream media to give Karen a platform. She seemed to be viewed as a woman with a dangerous idea, a woman who needed to be censored, because she is not afraid to speak out about the reality of what abortion has meant for her community.

“Imagine that here we are reversing the damage caused by institutions, removing barriers to education, making inroads into a full and inclusive life for people like me, and still we have those who say we shouldn’t even be born at all,” she previously told an audience at a TED Talk in Portland.

“I believe that Down Syndrome is a life worth saying ‘yes’ to. It is a life worth saving. Every life has value, every life matters, regardless of how many chromosomes you have,” she says.

We hear a lot about how much the media is anxious to support strong, intelligent women, and ensure inclusion for people with disabilities, but none of that seems to matter when a strong, intelligent, articulate woman with a disability is saying that every person has a right to life.

Karen Gaffney represents a community which has been devastated by abortion. In Britain, 90% of babies with Down Syndrome are aborted before birth. In Iceland, not one baby with Down Syndrome has been born in the past five years. Yet the Irish media didn’t want you to hear what a person with Down Syndrome had to say on the issue.

When Karen spoke to TDs in Dáil Éireann, they were hugely impressed by her inspiring passion for life and her work to make a better world for people with disabilities. 

The media never showed up to the press event that followed. RTÉ said that was because it was ‘just an anti-abortion event’. My guess is that there’s actually a very particular reason why they didn’t want her message to be heard.

According to recent opinion polls, there has been a dramatic fall in support for abortion on grounds of disability, a welcome shift from a shocking 61% support in a January 2016 Red C/Newstalk poll to just 36% in a June Ipsos/MRBI poll for The Irish Times. This shift caused The Irish Times to fret that the issue had seen a “hardening of opposition”, a curious observation when surely what the polls are showing is a softening of hearts, motivated by compassion and common decency. Has this dramatic fall made our lamentably biased media reluctant to give a voice to people like Karen Gaffney? It would appear so.

Proud

On July 1, Karen addressed the Save the 8th Rally for Life, a gathering which brought up to 80,000 people to celebrate life and demand a better answer than abortion for mothers and babies. 

“I am very proud to be here today to stand up for life, for all life, for the life of the unborn child even if that child will be born with Down Syndrome’’, she began to rapturous applause.

“I am from the US’’, she continued, ‘’and in my country, and in many countries all around the world, babies who may have Down Syndrome are being wiped out, even before they take their first breath. But not here. Not today. Not in your country. Not in Ireland!”

Karen Gaffney’s rally speech is set to go viral on social media, and will resonate with ordinary people of goodwill who realise that all of us deserve a chance at life, and that love doesn’t count chromosomes. 

But the Irish media needs to take a long, hard look at itself and at its willingness to discriminate against this inspiring, compassionate, articulate woman simply because she believes that Down Syndrome is a life worth saying ‘yes’ to.

 

Niamh Uí Bhriain is a spokeswoman for the Life Institute. www.thelifeinstitute.net