Love for Kids With Down Syndrome Turns Cold on Netflix Show ‘Love Is Blind’

Show contestant Nancy Rodriguez’s cruel remarks prompted a backlash on social media among families who have children with Down syndrome.

‘Smiling Girl’
‘Smiling Girl’ (photo: Denis Kuvaev / Shutterstock)

The popular Netflix show Love Is Blind featured a candid conversation about abortion last week as one participant in the reality dating series told her fiancé that she would “try again” if she found she had an unborn child with a “birth defect” like Down syndrome. 

Nancy Rodriguez, a speech pathologist who works with children with Down syndrome, told her fiancé Bartise Bowden that her work was “so sad that I would cry every day. A lot of the time, even just with Down syndrome, there are so many complications — medical and also learning complications — and I see the amount of trauma that it does to the family."

"Women who wait till 37, 38, even 36 and then their kids have birth defects," Rodriguez said to Bowden about starting a family. Bowden told Rodriguez that his mother had him at 36 and she replied, “Thank God your mom was fine at 36, but what would you do if you did find out that your child had a birth defect and you could abort the pregnancy? Do you want to keep the baby?" 

"It could be boy-girl, it could be transgender — they could do whatever,” he replied. “I just want to love that kid no matter what.”

Rodriguez said, "I think it's different for me. For me, if I knew that I could try again and hope that the second time it's better, then I would go that route, to be honest." 

“I could never do that,” he replied, “just abort mission because they’re going to have some challenges?”

Later in the show, Bowden told his family about their disagreement, which caused his sister to become emotional and ask Rodriguez to explain further as children with disabilities “are such blessings.”

“I only believe that because of what I’ve seen,” Rodriguez replied. “I specialize with Down syndrome. I had kids that were medically fragile so they have all sorts of medical illnesses. And for me working with so many children and the struggles that they went through and then seeing their families break down.” 

Rodriguez’s views prompted a backlash on social media among families who have children with Down syndrome.

One viewer, Maria, made a TikTok video with an image of her young son with Down syndrome. She wrote, "Imagine being a person with Down syndrome watching this on Love Is Blind. … The fact that she felt comfortable sharing these thoughts (and Netflix felt comfortable airing it) knowing her disabled clients and their family and other disabled people would see it just shows how little people with disabilities are considered.” 

In another video she asked, “If you replace what she said with any other social minority would it be aired?”

 Another mother of a child with Down syndrome, Toni Donaldson, wrote, “It’s absolutely heartbreaking to watch the conversations being had about Down syndrome on Love Is Blind on Netflix.” She called Rodriguez’s words “an extremely inaccurate narrative to spread. I understand the need to talk about pro-choice, which I am. This is not that. This is the rhetoric for eugenics. Just because we may have difficulties and a different way of life at times, does not make people with Down syndrome any less worthy of life. We do not lead a life that is less than nor do we live a life with trauma because we have a son with Down syndrome. It is hard to believe that at this day and age there are people that are so willing to casually say it for the world to see.” She ended with a video of her laughing toddler Travis, saying, “Travis is a BLESSING to our family.”  

The Global Down Syndrome Foundation addresses some of the issues Rodriguez raised in the show on their “Misconceptions v. Reality” page. In response to the claim that “a child with Down syndrome will ruin your marriage,” they point out that a Vanderbilt Kennedy Center study  “indicates that divorce rates are lower in families of children with Down syndrome.”

They add that “studies do not support that a child with Down syndrome will have a negative impact on siblings,” saying a “study published in the Journal of Intellectual Disability Research found no long-term detrimental effects to siblings. In fact, some mental health professionals point to the psychological advantages of such a child cared for within the family circle. They have documented siblings who have increased tolerance, compassion and awareness, in contrast to all typical siblings.”

The fact that Rodriguez holds such views and works with these families is particularly concerning given the immediate stigma parents of children with Down syndrome face from the medical community. 

One study recently featured in the Scientific American found that of 300 mothers of children with Down syndrome, most “reported negative experiences with medical staff, including a lack of compassion, pressure to terminate their pregnancy, and pessimistic expectations about outcomes for their child and family. Many received limited or no additional resources or support systems. For those individuals, memories of the diagnosis continued to be associated with negative emotions, and the time that had elapsed had not helped lessen the impact.” 

This stigma surrounding Down syndrome has a chilling impact and worldwide statistics show the majority of unborn babies diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted. A 2017 CBS report found a near 100% abortion rate for those diagnosed with the condition in Iceland. Denmark has a 98% abortion rate and in France that number is 77%. The United States has an estimated abortion rate of 67% after a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome.

Frank Stephens, an actor and adult with Down syndrome, testified before Congress in 2017 to ask for increased research funding to help people with Down syndrome. His words showed the impact that messages like those voiced by Rodriguez have on people like him.

“Some people say prenatal screens will identify Down syndrome in the womb and those pregnancies will just be terminated,” he said. “It's hard for me to sit here and say those words.”

“I completely understand that the people pushing this particular ‘final solution’ are saying that people like me should not exist,” he emphasized. “That view is deeply prejudiced by an outdated idea of life with Down syndrome. Seriously, I have a great life!”

Pope Francis blesses a child with Down syndrome May 18, 2013, in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican.

Down Syndrome Awareness, and Prayers for Haiti (March 16)

Looking ahead to Down Syndrome Awareness Day on March 21, developmental psychologist and mother Mary O’Callaghan sheds light on the joys and challenges facing families who receive trisomy-21 diagnoses. Also, Father Louis Merosne, pastor of the Cathedral of St. Anne in Anse-à-Veau, roughly 80 miles west of Port-au-Prince, describes the fear and the faith of the Haitian people.