Rep. McMorris Rodgers: My Down Syndrome Son’s Life Is Worth Living

Speaking to the Register, the Republican congresswoman eloquently responds to a recent Washington Post commentary that advocated abortion of unborn Down syndrome babies.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., plays with her 10-year-old son, Cole.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., plays with her 10-year-old son, Cole. (photo: Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers)

In a recent Washington Post op-ed article, writer Ruth Marcus defended the right to abort children with Down syndrome and said that she herself would have chosen abortion if she had been told that one of her unborn children had Trisomy 21, the extra chromosome that causes Down syndrome. 

Among the many people her article offended was Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., the mother of a 10-year-old son with Down syndrome. 

McMorris Rodgers, 48, a wife and mother of three who chairs the House Republican Conference, took to Twitter with some powerful responses to Marcus’ piece. In a series of tweets, the congresswoman talked about her son Cole and pointed out examples of people with Down syndrome who are making a difference in society. 

McMorris Rodgers also answered a few questions for the Register about her message to those who hold views like Ruth Marcus, the response she has received to her tweets, and how important it is for society to make a space for all people, including those with Down syndrome.


First, tell us a little more about Cole and the kind of impact he has had on your family and on those who know him.

Cole is in fifth grade now, and he loves to learn. He’s a great big brother and is very personable and motivated. He’s in Cub Scouts and plays basketball. When he walks into a room, he lights it up, and people are drawn to him. He is living a full life.


If you could sit down with Ruth Marcus, what would you say to her?

First, I would like to invite her to come spend some time with Cole. My message to her and to others who agree with her is that we should be celebrating what every person has to offer, and let’s do that from conception through their entire life.

Let’s be on the side of potential and possibility. We should be warriors of human dignity and human value. When we are those warriors that means we are creating more opportunities for everyone to live their version of the American dream.


What kind of feedback have you received to your tweets?

Ever since I posted my thoughts on Twitter, I’ve heard from other families who have children like my son, Cole. It’s been so inspiring! Their stories remind me of Frank Stephens, who testified on Capitol Hill. He said, “I’m a man with Down syndrome, and my life is worth living." 

Cole, Frank and everyone who has Down syndrome have stories to tell. They are stories that show they are living lives full of huge potential. It’s a reminder to all of us to focus on people’s abilities and all that they have to offer.


About two-thirds of women in the U.S. choose abortion when they learn that their unborn child has Down syndrome. What would you say to a woman in this situation? 

I know it’s difficult news to receive — and very overwhelming.

I remember at the time the doctors gave us a long list of all the things that could potentially go wrong. It would be overwhelming for any parent to be given a list of things that could happen to their child. … And even becoming a parent can be overwhelming in itself.

I would encourage a woman to see this child as having huge potential. They don’t understand in that moment just how that child will positively impact their lives and this world.


You are passionate about the ABLE to Work provision introduced into the tax bill, which allows people with disabilities to explore work. Why is this an important advancement? 

For me, helping people with disabilities live happy, healthy and productive lives is not just good policy — it’s personal. Cole has given me a whole new passion. That’s why I’m excited that my ABLE to Work provisions were signed into law in tax reform. It allows those with disabilities to explore the workforce and pursue their passion.

My goal is to ensure they have more opportunities to find a job because it really is about more than a paycheck; a job is what affirms their dignity and gives them purpose.

 As parents, we strive to give our kids the tools they need no matter the challenges that they face. Transforming our expectations for people with disabilities is what the ABLE Act is all about. We should be warriors for human dignity and human value. Let’s focus on their abilities and what they have to offer.

Zoe Romanowsky writes from Frederick, Maryland.


Readers can learn more about the ABLE to Work provision and see more footage of Rep. McMorris Rodgers and her family and son here, in a video made for World Down Syndrome Day, which is March 21.

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.