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Gerber features Down syndrome 'spokesbaby' amid effort to reduce abortions and boost acceptance

Lucas Warren, age 1, from Dalton, Ga., is the first Gerber baby with Down syndrome. (YouTube screenshot)

For the first time in the company’s 91-year history, Gerber is featuring a baby with Down syndrome. The pioneering child is 1-year-old Lucas Warren, from Dalton, Georgia, winner of the company’s annual Gerber Baby Photo Search.

"He's very outgoing and never meets a stranger," Lucas's mom, Cortney, told TODAY Parents. "He loves to play, loves to laugh and loves to make other people laugh."

Why is the timing of this so important?

Lucas has entered the limelight at a time when some parents are choosing abortion after learning their child is likely to be born with Down syndrome.

Advanced genetic screenings now allow parents to find out if their fetus has genetic abnormalities such as markers for Down syndrome. The screenings raise issues that are difficult to navigate for both parents and physicians, Vardit Ravitsky a professor of bioethics at the University of Montreal, Canada, told The Current, a CBC radio program.

Ravitsky leads Pegasus, a Canadian research organization that examines the ethical and social implications of new technologies that screen for various conditions, CBC reported. Through her work with Pegasus, Ravitsky has observed that doctors are swaying parents into abortions by focusing on the negative aspects of Down syndrome – including the risk of health problems.

Between 80 to 90 percent of parents decide in favor of abortion after receiving a clear diagnosis of Down syndrome, she said.

Ravitsky hopes to change that.

She said doctors often do not give parents the full picture, including "the happy parts — the quality of life and the fact that families with a child with Down syndrome are super happy."

What are parents saying?

Parents with Down syndrome children hope campaigns like Gerber’s will help bring greater awareness and acceptance.

"I think this is great," Karyn MacMahon Bradfield, whose daughter Nicole has Down syndrome, told The Current. "What's really important for the community is acceptance, recognition and supporting people with special needs. This brings attention to [them]."

But is a beautiful picture in an advertising campaign enough to make a significant change? That’s a question raised by David Perry, the parent of an 11-year-old son, Nico, who has Down syndrome.

"Although the Gerber baby is super cute, I am very skeptical that it is a particularly significant moment in the long journey to acceptance for people of Down syndrome," he told The Current.

"We've seen this before — cute picture and cute kid, but what are the next steps?" Perry asked. "What's Gerber going to do next?"

"What I'd like to see from Gerber is more than just this cute child," Perry said. "I'd like to hear them say: 'We are going to be employing thousands of people with Down syndrome and pay them full wages.'"

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