“Mum was told I had Down syndrome when she was seven months pregnant,” Charlie said. “Doctors tried to bully her to abort me. They said I would never speak properly, never learn to read, write, or be independent. They told mum I would ruin her life and my brothers’ lives.”
Charlie Fien is no ordinary woman. She is only 23 years old and has already addressed the United Nations and been a keynote speaker at the March for Life in London. She is a world traveler, a writer, a college student, and engaged to be married to her “prince charming.”
When I asked her how life with Down syndrome is different from what the doctors said it would be, she responded:
“My life is the opposite of what they said! I started walking when I was sixteen months old. I learned to read and speak…at age two. I’ve traveled abroad on my own. I use public transport independently to go to class at Goldsmiths University.”
This success could largely be attributed to growing up in a trilingual family. As Charlie’s mother has explained: “I was told Charlie would never speak one language properly. Well she speaks, reads, and writes in two…professionals told us all sorts of nonsense and painted a bleak picture. I’m happy I ignored them and let my instincts guide us.”
Charlie was born in Europe, a continent where several countries have nearly 100% abortion rates for pregnancies prenatally diagnosed with the genetic condition. In fact, in Iceland the abortion rate has reached 100%. In Denmark, the rate of terminations is 98%, and in the UK, where Charlie was born, it is 92%.
For this reason, Charlie considers herself an advocate — an advocate fighting to keep her community, which is rapidly disappearing, alive. She is one of the lucky survivors, making our world a more loving and inclusive place for people of all abilities.
After watching a documentary titled A World without Down Syndrome, Charlie described feeling incredibly angry and sad to watch other individuals like herself becoming a target for “eradication.”
When asked what she wants the world to understand about people with Down syndrome, Charlie said, “We are human beings — human beings — and we aren’t that different from people with 46 chromosomes.”
“We are human beings — human beings — and we aren’t that different from people with 46 chromosomes.”
And these human beings, despite often receiving a grim outlook for their lives by medical professionals, often thrive. In fact, a 2013 study by the Intellectual and Developmental Journal found that 99% of people with Down syndrome report being “happy with their lives” and 97% of brothers and sisters say they love their siblings. That is much higher than the general population.
“My parents and brothers are very proud of me. I have a brilliantly happy life.”
And Charlie’s success continues. She has found happiness and fulfillment, something many people struggle to achieve, in spite of the unhappy and unfulfilled life doctors expected her to live.
So why is the abortion rate for Down syndrome so high? Charlie believes it is for a few reasons. First, she believes there is a problem with the way medical professionals deliver the news of a prenatal diagnosis to expectant mothers. Instead of congratulating a new mother on the life of her child or providing resources like support groups and ways to become educated about Down syndrome, doctors are often quick to say “I’m sorry” and pressure parents to abort.
Instead, Charlie hopes doctors will learn to empower their patients by painting a more accurate picture of what life with Down syndrome is actually like. As someone who lives with the genetic condition herself, she thinks a better delivery would look like this:
“Congratulations! Your baby has Down syndrome. He/she will love you forever, unconditionally. They may take longer to achieve things but will work super hard to get there.”
Second, Charlie believes the lack of exposure to people in the Down syndrome community helps breed fear and ignorance that leads to an incredibly high termination rate.
“Most people with Down syndrome are kept hidden away in special schools, so regular students don’t grow up with us. They don’t know what we are like.”
And third, Charlie laments about society’s insatiable hunger for “perfection,” especially in our children. “Sadly, some people only want a ‘perfect’ baby,” she said, “But they are fooling themselves because perfection doesn’t exist!”
Miss Fien has seen firsthand the tragedy that abortion has had on people like her, whose “very survival is at stake,” and the discrimination against human beings because of a genetic difference. “People with Down syndrome are being targeted for extinction,” Charlie said.
“People with Down syndrome are being targeted for extinction.”
Passionate about protecting the lives of people like herself, Charlie has strong words for those who would advocate for the “eradication” of Down syndrome from society. And she begs people to “support life, not death,” even in the face of an unexpected prenatal diagnosis.
Because like everyone else, Charlie has goals, dreams, and hopes that would never be realized had she been aborted.
“My main goals are to get my university degree in Creative Writing, work as a published novelist, get married, have children, and most importantly, have a wonderful, full life!”
Charlie shows by the example of her own life just how much worth and dignity the lives of every human being, including people with Down syndrome, have.
Like she told the audience at the United Nations, where she received a five-minute standing ovation: “I am not suffering. I am not ill. None of my friends who have DS are suffering either. We live happy lives. We are still human beings.”
“We won’t be quiet anymore…I won’t ever stop fighting for our right to exist.” — Charlie Fien
Voices for the Voiceless is a Phoenix-based pro-life nonprofit advocating for the dignity and worth of every human being and creating a world where no one faces unplanned pregnancy alone. Every day, we work to mobilize communities of support around women in unplanned pregnancies and change hearts and minds about abortion.
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My interview with Madeline Stuart