“You should have killed your daughter.”
That’s the implicit charge I hear in the abortion debate from many of those who claim to be fighting for “women’s rights”.
Every time a new abortion story hits the news, I see members of the media or posts on social media that mention “genetic abnormalities,” “Down’s Syndrome,” “fetal abnormalities” or “incompatible with life” as valid reasons to go through with an abortion. Sometimes, these people go so far as to lament how some new law would “force” women to carry to term a child with any of the above and many ghoulishly complain that the new law would cause more of these children to live out in the world, where, depending on the person’s politics, they will “become a burden” to either their families or the state.
Normally, when I see these posts, there is some degree of distance between me and the person saying these things. The Texas heartbeat law changed that. Numerous friends on social media made posts shaming Texas for “causing more people with Down’s Syndrome to enter the gene pool.” Others made the typical complaint that mothers would now be “forced” to raise a disabled child.
As the father of a child with a genetic syndrome, these posts struck right at my heart. Many of the arguments in favour of abortion include something about genetic abnormalities, including one 2020 article in the journal Ethical Theory and Moral Practice entitled Genetic Selective Abortion: Still a Matter of Choice. This is hardly the pro-choice movement’s primary argument – the discourse is still focused primarily on ChoiceTM – but if you engage in debate with an abortion advocate for long enough, it will likely come up: “You pro-life people don’t really want a bunch of invalids around, do you?” Most people do not, evidently – a majority of women choose to abort when their unborn child is diagnosed with a genetic syndrome or fetal abnormality.
Behind each of these arguments, no matter how you dress them up, is “You should have killed your daughter.”
Obviously, the average pro-abortion advocate does not literally wish that I had killed my daughter. When I call people out on the implication, they quickly clarify that they simply want women to have the “choice” to not bring these kinds of children to term, but the implication is still there: Those with genetic syndromes or fetal abnormalities don’t really deserve life. Children like my daughter should only be allowed to live if their mother feels “up to it.” My daughter’s life has value, the implication goes, because her mother determined that she could handle the unique challenges her existence might bring. Had she determined otherwise, my daughter’s life would have no value. No amount of benevolent-sounding euphemisms can mask the deranged moral logic at work above. Just say it: “You should have killed your daughter.”
I love my daughter. She is the happiest four year old I know. Yes, she’s had at least one major surgery every year since she was born, and she still has a few coming down the line. Yes, she’s developmentally delayed in several ways. Yes, she relies on some social programs. But she’s alive, and she – and others like her – deserves her shot at life. Every single human life is precious, whether they are born “healthy” or not.
People on both sides of the abortion debate need to realize that the disabled community exists – and that we can hear them when they talk about us.
On the one hand, the overwhelming rate at which children prenatally diagnosed with genetic syndromes or fetal abnormalities are aborted sends a message to the disabled who walk the earth today: We don’t want you here.
On the other hand, when pro-lifers treat disabled parents as superheroes, we’re sending disabled people a similar message: Normal people can’t handle you, and they shouldn’t have to. To tell the parent of a disabled child that they’re “special,” “elite,” a “superhero” simply reinforces the notion that only “super-parents” can take care of children with disabilities, which makes it much easier for a scared woman who learns that her child may have a disability to think “Wow, I could never live up to that responsibility,” and go through with an abortion.
We, as a society, need to treat the disabled and their families with the respect that they so richly deserve. We need to make it easier to raise children with disabilities and for adults with disabilities to live their lives. We need to welcome disabled families into our communities, our schools, our churches, and our workplaces. We need to remove the stigma around, and raise awareness of, pre-natal hospice for those children who will sadly not live for long after birth. And we need to stop treating the disabled as part of the “throwaway culture” that figures like Pope Francis and Charlie Camosy have talked about.
And may God have mercy on us if we don’t.
Nicholas Mataya is a teacher in San Antonio, Texas. He is married with one child and another on the way. He is the Secretary of the Texas Solidarity Party and Vice-Chair of the Bexar County Solidarity Party.