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A recent poll shows that 59% of Americans think a woman should be allowed to get a late-term (24+ weeks gestation) abortion, despite the laws in her state, if her unborn baby is diagnosed with birth defects caused by the Zika virus.
Pro-lifers are rightly distraught by this high number of Americans who would accept a late-term abortion of a Zika-infected baby. By 24 weeks gestation and beyond, we’re talking about a child who’s been unmistakably kicking, dancing, and hiccuping inside his mother for many weeks — a child whose face she’s probably seen in an ultrasound, and whose sex she knows, whose name she may have already chosen. By 24 weeks, it’s likely she’s bought clothes for her baby, maybe even had a baby shower to welcome him, and planned a space for him to sleep at night.
So what would make a woman seek an abortion this far along, after she gets the diagnosis of Zika? Pro-lifers must look more deeply at this question, beyond just saying “Be pro-life!” Especially in an election year, we must think of the bigger picture, at the issues surrounding a woman’s decision — and we must vote accordingly.
A woman carrying a baby with Zika-induced defects might abort because . . .
She thinks her child’s life will be worthless because of his defect. This is not an idle concern. Zika does not always cause microcephaly, and microcephaly itself can cause a wide range of defects, from mild to severe; but at its worst, microcephaly is associated with
- Developmental delay, such as problems with speech or other developmental milestones such as sitting, standing, and walking
- Intellectual disability (decreased ability to learn and function in daily life)
- Problems with movement and balance
- Feeding problems, such as difficulty swallowing
- Hearing loss
- Vision problems
No mother wants this for her child.
But can she accept it? It may be easier for a mother to resolve to show her love for her baby by giving birth to him and caring for him as best she can, if she has help. If she knows that there is a support network available, and that she and her child will not be alone, she may feel more hopeful that it’s worth it to give birth. Private and public-funded organizations that support and encourage people with disabilities and their families are invaluable, and they can make the difference between a life of agony and a life that is difficult but rewarding. They can make a difference between choosing death and choosing life. We must consider public policies that make it easy for such organizations to function.
Can we vote for policies that fund the support a disabled child needs to have a good life? Pro-lifers must consider this.
Why else would a loving mother consider aborting her child with birth defects?
She thinks her child will be too hard, and too expensive, to care for. And this is not an idle concern either. Caring for a child with a severe disability is exhausting. It is only manageable if parents have access to lots of help from the medical community: trained therapists; schools that are equipped, encouraged, and funded to include special needs students; respite care when parents needs a break; help with things like transportation to and from medical appointments and childcare for their other children; and the assurance that the unthinkably high medical bills they incur will be paid.
And a mother must know that she can afford to live, eat, pay her rent and her electric bill, while she is caring for her child.
Can we vote for policies that readily fund all the primary and ancillary care and support that a disabled child and his caregivers will need? Pro-lifers must consider this.
And the third reason, possibly the most important of all, that a woman might choose late-term abortion?
She thinks her child will be rejected and outcast by society, and people will treat him as if he’s less than human because he looks and behaves differently. This is also not an idle concern. More are more, we applaud leaders who encourage us to automatically reject, demonize, and physically thrust away — out of the room, out of the state, out of the country — people who don’t look and act like us.
If we learn the habit of despising the alien, this attitude will not sequester itself to one class of despised people. Hatred is hungry, and is always looking for more hateful classes of humans to consume. The one who despises the refugee, the poor, the foreigner, the helpless will also inevitably despise the baby with the malformed skull, who cannot speak, who cannot pull his own weight, who cannot give us easy, comforting answers about what life is for.
Can we vote for leaders who teach us to despise the weak? Pro-lifers must consider this.
Being pro-life means being willing to look at hard, ugly questions without easy “pro/con” answers.
Before you vote, look at a crucifix and tell me that we’re only supposed to be pro-life when it’s easy, or cheap, or doesn’t make any demands on our sensibilities or our wallets. Look at a crucifix and tell me that we’re called to join in that unspeakable sacrifice only as long as our taxes don’t get too high and we never have to hear a foreign language that bothers us. Look at a crucifix and tell me that all that agony was only meant for the useful, the strong, the wholesome, the familiar, the whole.
When we call ourselves pro-life, we must not only consider the basic issue of accepting abortion or rejecting abortion. We must look at the reasons that women seek abortions, and we must look at what she needs to reject those reasons. If we want fewer women to seek abortions, then we must do all we can to make life with her child seem possible, even joyful and worthwhile.
And we must keep all this in mind when we vote.
It’s easy for a candidate to say three syllables: “I’m pro-life.” It’s harder for a president (or a state rep, or a governor) to sign bills that will shape a world in which pregnant women realize, “Maybe I can do this.”
If you can’t vote, then so be it. Despite what you may have heard, I haven’t stated or even decided whether I can make myself vote in this election, much less for whom I will vote.
But do not tell me that a candidate is pro-life, when every policy and attitude a candidate promotes would push a mother to kill her child. I won’t have it. I won’t sit back and let that happen to the phrase “pro-life.”
Look at a crucifix, and ask yourself if you can let it happen. Think of the mother who wants to carry her baby to term. Think of what she needs, and think of what you can to do make that possible.