With this reflection, I’m delving into controversy, as you can tell by the title. I feel nervous as I’m writing, so please bear with me. (And yes, it’s long.)
I’d like to start by stating that I see pros and cons in both the Democratic and Republican parties of the United States, and I am a registered independent — actually, it’s called Undeclared. I detest party politics. Yes, detest. That’s probably the strongest language that you will ever see me use in this blog. If I have to describe myself as a voter, then I am pro-life. Immediately, you are probably thinking of abortion, but that’s neither the definition nor the sum total of being pro-life. An elective abortion is not a loving act that fosters and safeguards life. Neither is the death penalty. Neither is embryonic destruction. Neither is euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. Neither is untreated mental illness that leads people to do violence to themselves or others. Neither is domestic violence. Neither is rape. Neither is the waste, misuse, or overuse of natural resources. Neither is unnecessary war. Neither is a lack of compassion for victims of famine, the homeless, addicts, refugees, and immigrants.
In my mind, I can hear Democrats cheering me for that last part. But they won’t be cheering me for the rest.
Or will they?
Recently, Alisyn Camerota of CNN interviewed Indiana’s Atty. Gen. Curtis Hill concerning that state’s law attempting to ban eugenic abortions — elective abortions based solely on race, gender, or disability. The Supreme Court decided not to address the constitutionality of this particular law, which allowed a lower court’s ban to stay in place, but the question put to the Atty. Gen. by Camerota was this: “Why would you want a family to have to have a child with a severe disability?” In other words, isn’t it a good thing for a woman to abort a fetus with a diagnosed disability if she and her family don’t feel that they could care for a disabled child?
“Why would lawmakers force parents to bring that child to fruition?” Camerota asked. While the interviewer brought up severe abnormalities that cause death soon after birth, the Atty. Gen. tried to explain that the law was designed to prevent children from being aborted because they had unwanted physical characteristics, not necessarily because they had conditions that could lead to near immediate death. This interview has gotten a lot of attention in pro-life circles, so I wish that Atty. Gen. Hill had done a better job explaining why eugenic abortions are so very wrong and dangerous. This reflection is my attempt to bring better understanding.
Let’s first look at the interviewer’s question of whether or not the government should force a family to raise a child with a severe disability.
As we know, a healthy child can become severely disabled because of a virus, disease, or an injury sustained from an accident. The government does not force the parents to continue raising their disabled child. Parents are free to terminate their parental rights if they believe that they cannot care for their children and then the children go to foster care, group homes, or adopting families. I have a second cousin who had two sons with my debilitating disease, both of whom ended up being cared for through the State because the father left and the mother was unable to take care of them. As we know, the State often needs to care for even perfectly healthy children because parents can’t handle the responsibility and other family members are unwilling or unable to assist. Parents are never forced to parent. There are always alternatives choices. Destruction really shouldn’t be the first choice. Should it?
The next question is whether or not we believe that these young, disabled men, who could not be cared for by their parents, would have been better off if they had never been born?
What about all of the healthy kids in foster care whose parents can’t care for them?
If every fetus diagnosed with a disability were aborted, we, as a society, would still need to take measures to care for children who become severely disabled anytime after birth and who cannot be cared for by their families. Either that, or we will have to enact laws that would allow stopping the hearts of disabled children and adults.
Should we do that?
I hope that we all sympathize for every mother and father who receives a debilitating diagnosis for their not yet born child. No parents in their right minds want their children to be disabled. Nobody wants to have to make great sacrifices in order to care for a lifelong dependent child. My own parents were not ready and willing to have a severely disabled daughter. Before diagnosis, my mother imagined me needing braces on my legs forever and couldn’t stand the thought. My parents couldn’t even bring themselves to get me a wheelchair until I was four years old, relying on strollers instead. Many people think that my parents are extraordinary — and they are — but they aren’t any more extraordinary than many other ordinary parents placed in extraordinary situations. They had the chance to find out how extraordinary they could be. And, yes, how extraordinary I am.
Not every mother or father is able to rise to the occasion, of course, and not every disabled person is glad to be alive. Not every able-bodied person is glad to be alive either. Nobody can tell how happy or sad the life of a not yet born child will be, not even a mother, but there is a general feeling that a severely disabled child will not have a life worth living. Why do we feel that way? That’s the question that should be asked in every interview on the subject. It’s an honest question, and there is no anger coming from me here at all. This should be a thoughtful, in-depth discussion, because we as a people put a definition on life itself through our laws and this influences how we think about ourselves and one another.
So what is life for? Is it for productivity within society? Personal pleasure? Benefit to others? Or…what?
My body is complicated, my life is complicated, but I do believe that there is a pretty simple definition of what life is supposed to be. Life, by its very nature, is supposed to be lived. We help each other live every day — from the food that we eat to the glasses that we wear, we know that we can’t live on our own. Having high self-esteem, I feel perfectly comfortable saying that my life as a person with a disability is extra burdensome because I need extra help to stay alive. But is my life TOO burdensome because I’m disabled? Is that a conclusion that my mother should have been able to make and act upon before she birthed me, based solely on my disability?
Reproductive-rights advocates are compelled to answer yes to this particular question. Yes, my mother should have had the right to prejudge my life based solely on my disability and have a doctor give a lethal injection to stop my heart before I was born. Of course, the majority of them will probably feel very uneasy giving this answer, because they know that aborting a fetus based on a muscular dystrophy or down syndrome diagnosis, to give just two examples, is…well…not exactly beautiful. If a woman chooses to have an abortion because she doesn’t want to give birth to a girl or to a baby with a deformed hand, then it seems to me that we should feel a bit repulsed by her choice. To say the least. However, we as society have decided that only the pregnant woman and her doctor have the right to any kind of discussion on these matters. There are people who say that they are antiabortion but pro-choice — perhaps, we could say that they are uncomfortably pro-choice — taking this position because they feel compassion for women facing unwanted pregnancies or because they don’t want to be misconstrued as anti-women and unjust.
By continually stating over and over that we should let the matter of abortion be decided between a woman and her doctor, we are allowing women and their doctors to practice prejudice unchecked — and the worst kind of prejudice, the kind that declares one group of human beings unworthy of life. Some may say that it is not a question of “worthiness of life” but of course it is. When a woman and her doctor decide that a fetus that tests positive for a disorder, disease, or disability should not continue living because of the disorder, disease, or disability, then it is quite simply a decision based on the prejudice that disorders, diseases, and disabilities provide a poor quality of life, a suboptimal life, a life not worth living. Too much of a burden to allow to live.
It is prejudice to say that a severely disabled child will suffer too greatly and not have a life worth living before that child is even allowed to breathe air. Pro-choice advocates can dance around the subject as much as they want, but — unless they believe that disabled people are a drain on society which society must do away with — they know that it’s true. They just don’t know what to do about it.
Can we start by not reducing my position to merely a religious one, because it most certainly is not? Can we start by funding programs to help take care of people with disabilities and chronic illnesses in a lovingly generous way? Can we start by having an honest conversation about unborn children and the future of our society without accusing people of being anti-women?
Perhaps pro-choicers are stubbornly entrenched in their position for one very simple reason: being pro-life is extremely difficult. The questions that are being raised are emotionally trying and pro-life solutions are complex. Isn’t it easier to say that this is a personal matter best decided between a woman and her doctor? By having this position we are even celebrated in our mainstream culture, honored for washing our hands of moral and ethical implications.
I wonder how many Americans who are pro-choice are uncomfortably pro-choice. I admit that I have been somewhat uncomfortably pro-life, not being comfortable with the idea of a woman giving birth against her will, but I am much more uncomfortable with prejudice, especially the kind of prejudice that deems it better for a certain “kind” of person to never exist. I won’t tolerate prejudice. None of us should. So when it comes to “eugenic” abortion as it’s being called, I know that I need to speak up. Clearly there is a danger in letting “reproductive rights” go unchecked. One Supreme Court justice wrote at length about his legitimate concerns regarding the dark history of eugenics — but only one. Perhaps it isn’t surprising that he is the only black person on the Supreme Court. He knows the lethal power of prejudice and how it can thoroughly damage a society. I’m surprised that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg doesn’t see the danger as well. Or perhaps she just doesn’t know what to do about saving our society from a future of designer babies. Perhaps, she isn’t daring enough to speak up against choice going unchecked.
Some people don’t dare speak up against the atrocity of weeding out down syndrome through abortion for fear of making women feel guilty for their choice or for fear of being labeled anti-women’s rights. As a woman, however, I am daring. As a woman, I am passionately against prejudice. As a woman, I am intelligent enough to see the dangerous implications of our laws and courageous enough to point out the narrow-mindedness of able-bodied people. As a woman, I am strong enough to to know that other women are stronger than they think. As a woman, I am bold enough to handle the complex pro-life solutions with both compassion and wisdom. And yes, as a woman with a disability, I know that a human’s body and brain don’t need to be perfect in order for the human to be worthy of life.
Please, dear reader, never become so entrenched in party lines that you fail to see the plight of both the mother AND the child. We shape our society together. Words matter. Laws matter. And yes, people matter, people of every size, shape, and walk of life. When we fail to remember that, we fail in our ideals of liberty and justice for all.
© 2019 Christina Chase
Featured photo by Sergiu Valena on Unsplash
Photo by Dan Chase © 2014
Although crippled by disease, I am fully alive in love. I write about the profound wonder and terrible beauty of life while living with physical disability and severe dependency. Unafraid to ask life's big questions, I was briefly an atheist and considered other religions before finding, in God's choice to intimately share our humanity, what it truly means to be fully human. A revert to the Catholic Faith, I blog weekly and have written a book called It's Good to Be Here.