We Can't Leave People with Disabilities Behind
Around the country, the headlines have been plagued with stories of mothers who wanted to give birth to their child but received a life-limiting prenatal diagnosis and now, often out of a deeply misguided attempt at compassion, are franticly searching for a way to abort their child. While these tragic narratives are heartbreaking — full of the mother’s shattered hopes and dreams for her unborn child — they also fail to accurately depict what it means to love someone with a disability.
State legislators have caved to the emotional pull of these stories, changing total protections for the unborn to protections for the unborn except. In fact, when Indiana passed their nearly full protections law for the unborn earlier this month, they did so specifically excluding people prenatally diagnosed with a “lethal fetal anomaly” up to 20 weeks gestation. This is especially notable as, prior to the overturn of Roe, Indiana was one of just six states that protected unborn children with any chromosomal abnormality from eugenic abortions.
As America moves forward protecting life, some laws give the impression that Americans are okay with leaving unborn children prenatally diagnosed with disabilities behind. Perhaps this is because as a country, we’ve always left people with disabilities behind.
The kindest, most loving, most cheerful person I have ever met is my older sister, Marita. As a young woman living with a chromosomal anomaly that caused both physical and intellectual disabilities, my sister is an avid square dancer who can do-si-do with the best of them as well a Special Olympics gold medalist! My older sister’s physical and intellectual disabilities make portions of her life challenging, and if my mom were pregnant with Marita today, many doctors would recommend abortion (and my parents would have rejected), describing in detail the future suffering Marita would face.
Marita has had countless surgeries. Tying her shoes and walking on an uneven path are daily trials. Sometimes, it takes her several minutes to formulate a complete thought. Doctors would have warned my parents that the things most people take for granted would be difficult or even impossible for Marita. But what most doctors would likely have failed to mention is that loving others and bringing joy to everyone she encounters would simply be part of who Marita is.
Friendship comes easily to Marita; all it takes is a smile. She laughs hysterically at every joke making everyone feel like the funniest person in the room. She remembers and talks about the good things people have done for her the way most of us remember and talk about the ways we have been wronged. And if you’ve met her, even if only for a few minutes, there’s a high likelihood that you’re on the invite list for her “surprise” 40th birthday party.
Marita’s ability to love with reckless abandon makes everyone around her better, because the only reasonable response to that kind of innocent, selfless love is to love in return. Everyone leaves time with Marita knowing it was time well spent. But still Marita’s most common companion is loneliness.
In a world where comfort and efficiency are valued above all else, people with physical and intellectual disabilities are often left out. Likely as the result of the constant nagging feeling that we have to “get things done,” despite the love and joy they bring, we forget to invite people with physical and intellectual disabilities into our lives. We unintentionally associate them more with “inconvenience” than the more accurate “immeasurable value.” Perhaps it is our lack of regular interaction with these people that makes it so easy to forget the gift they are to this world.
In the months since the Dobbs decision, legislators in pro-life states around the country have worked to protect life — but the trend of being satisfied with protecting all unborn life except when the child is prenatally diagnosed with a disability must come to an end.
Parents who receive the devastating news of a life-limiting fetal anomaly should be met with support, resources, and stories of the incredibly positive impact these unborn children have had on families—not laws indicating that their child’s life is somehow less valuable.
Certainly, we must be honest about the struggles that accompany a diagnosis of a life-limiting fetal anomaly, but we also must be honest about the love and even joy that these people, who are much more than a diagnosis, share with the world regardless of how long their lives are.
We cannot continue to make judgments about which lives are worth living and which are not. Each time we do that, we are not willing to build a world based on the belief that it is our shared humanity — not our ability — that makes each person valuable.
As pro-lifers, we must commit to working until every unborn child is protected — without exception. And that commitment should begin today by calling up someone with physical and intellectual disabilities to see if they’d like to go for coffee, play tennis, or join for a cookout. At first, it may seem inconvenient, but convenience is not the most important thing in this world — love is.
If you or someone you know has recently received a life-limiting prenatal diagnosis for your unborn child, visit Be Not Afraid, an organization that provides comprehensive support to parents experiencing a prenatal diagnosis.
Mary Szoch is the Director of the Center for Human Dignity at Family Research Council.