Last week, the news came out about a pregnant woman in Maryland who discovered through prenatal testing that her fetus had Down syndrome. She planned to abort—the same choice made by at least 3 in 4 women who receive this diagnosis—until a local priest intervened, offering to find a family to adopt her child.
The woman was already 23 weeks pregnant, so she only had a few days to procure an abortion legally and reportedly gave the priest 24 hours to find a family. 900 offers came in. The church has narrowed the potential parents down to three couples, and the woman has decided to carry her baby to term.
Days ago, with this story buzzing around the blogosphere, I met a mother and her new baby, who has Down syndrome. We had a lovely time. Her son reminded me of my daughter Penny as a baby—full of smiles, attentive to his mother's face, swatting at toys, and hardly making a peep other than happy noises.
But the best part of our time together was the final few minutes when Penny, who also has Down syndrome, came home from summer school. She got off the bus, walked over to our guest, and stuck out her hand. "I'm Penny. It's nice to meet you." Penny proceeded to chatter about her day, talking about playing with a classmate, doing math (her favorite), and our plans to visit a friend the next day. When the mom and child needed to leave, Penny extended her arms for a hug, and then she asked, "Can I give your baby a kiss too?"
That night, Penny and I were telling my son William about our visitors. "You know how we were kind of scared and sad after we learned that Penny had Down syndrome?" I asked. "Well, I think maybe this mom felt a little bit scared and sad that her baby had Down syndrome, so maybe it helped her feel more happy to meet Penny and see that having Down syndrome isn't scary or sad for us."
William had squinted at me throughout my comments, the way he does when he doesn't quite understand what I'm saying. "But Mom," he said, "Down syndrome is good. Penny's very flexible." Penny promptly pulled her foot to her head to demonstrate. (Increased flexibility, at least as a child, is one of the perks of the low muscle tone that accompanies Down syndrome.) "Well," I said, "Down syndrome is good and bad, just like there are good and bad things about the bodies of people who don't have Down syndrome." William shrugged.
It's no surprise that news outlets picked up on the story I mentioned earlier with all its feel-good elements. But I wasn't expecting Jezebel's take on it: Church Saves Fetus with Downs, Everyone Lives Happily Ever After. It tells the story and concludes:
It's great that so many families were interested. But the woman in this story is still being coerced into carrying to term.
So many mistreated babies and kids with Downs live terrible lives. Instead of throwing resources at a nonviable fetus, why can't the church help children with Down syndrome that are already alive? Because anti-abortion folks care more about fetuses with fairytale narratives than actual babies.
When I first read it, I didn't want to comment. I wanted to let it fall by the Internet wayside, consign it to the bin of deplorable remarks made by bloggers in search of a response the breaking-news cycle.
But this post demonstrates such a callous disregard and disrespect for everyone involved—the priest, the potential adoptive families, and most importantly the pregnant woman and her "nonviable fetus"—that as a Christian, a parent, and a mother of a child with Down syndrome, I couldn't remain silent.
This attitude extends beyond one post or one site. It serves as a prime example of the pro-choice movement becoming increasingly blinded by ideology. Years ago, perhaps this case could be one that both sides would have applauded: a mother retaining her right to choose and even being presented with another option, adoption, through the priest. Yet, the tone turns defensive, as the writer assumes the woman has succumbed to social or religious pressure. Certainly we aren't going to be so dismissive of women's agency to think that this woman didn't have any say in the matter just because a priest reached out to her?
It seems in the contemporary, pro-choice mindset, there was no choice other than abortion.
The priest, in recognizing the vulnerability of both the woman and her baby, worked to offer a solution for both of them. This case could have easily been an example of how to find a solution outside of the politicized and polarized debates that continue to shape the abortion wars within the United States, and yet, abortion-rights activists dismiss the church's efforts on behalf of this woman and her "nonviable fetus."
Moreover, the writer perpetuates a problematic ignorance of people with Down syndrome that seems to be all over the media these days. She implies—no, states outright—that the majority of children with Down syndrome live terrible lives. Yes, if they are mistreated, children with Down syndrome struggle mightily… just like typical kids. But data also suggests that the vast majority of families and individuals with Down syndrome live lives of contentment and joy.
The priest who reached out to the pregnant woman has a brother with Down syndrome. His father died in the act of saving that brother's life. I suspect this priest knows the value of human life, including and perhaps especially the lives of those with Down syndrome and other vulnerabilities, full well.
The writers at Jezebel may think that this story demonstrates something coercive and destructive about the pro-life movement, but their response shows the opposite. We see a defense of abortion-rights going as far as suggesting that abortion is the better option, or the only option, for a baby with special needs. It demonstrates the ways in which the liberal feminist cause has been coerced into supporting a culture that considers some lives more worthy than others.
While the Jezebel headline mocks the claim that, "everyone lived happily ever after," that line doesn't have to be a joke. A mother offered her baby life. Her baby will be born into a loving home, the answer to his or her future parents' prayers.
Penny spent the early hours of her morning writing e-mails to a host of friends and family members. Again and again, she typed a similar message: "i am havng a gret summer." Yes, adoption can bring heartache and raising a child with special needs can be a struggle, but happily ever after is possible for all babies, no matter how many chromosomes they have.