I have big thoughts on a recent op-ed from The Washington Post entitled, "I would’ve aborted a fetus with Down syndrome. Women need that right."
But first, some context.
Today is Mothering Sunday in Ireland and the UK. I love that this turn of phrase goes beyond the traditional Hallmark greeting of "Mother's Day." This wording, this mothering, is explicitly declaring that mothering is an act, not just a job title. And though we may not all be mothers, many women (and even some men) are persistently intentional in the act of mothering.
Some of my favourite mothers are not my own. Some are my own age, peers who have yet to cross the definitive threshold (or health insurance deductible, or tax bracket) of motherhood. Some are the age of my parents or grandparents, mothering and grand-parenting myself, my husband, and our three third culture kids.
These women are invaluable, and on this day, on this island, I'm called to celebrate them all.
Now this particular Mothering Day falls on my husband's birthday. Today he is 42, and not a strand of grey sits upon his full head of hair. But it's not just his day. Since the day we met, he's been celebrating this day with another family member, 15 years his junior: my cousin, Christina.
Christina is a riot. Literally. She is the life of the party, and it's a wild one. She gives epic prayers and speeches, and she loves people of all shapes and sizes. She was a wee thing at our wedding, and in the family pictures, it's not Matt and I at the centre; it's her.
Even saying all this, knowing these precious things about her, I don't know her as well as I should. Time and distance will do that. And yes, lack of proper effort will do that, too. I wish I knew her better, not just because we're family, but because the rest of that lot - my mother's side, still proudly led by my 95 year old grandmother - declare her the very best of us.
Maybe it's because she is all those things and she also has Down syndrome. Maybe not. But if it is, so what? It's a part of what makes her, her. And we love her for it.
So back to that opinion piece.
I find it hard to fit my views and beliefs (my moral ethos) into neat pro- or anti- categories. I've struggled with the pro-life movement, in that there is much I find lacking (a holistic ethic, for one). I grew up post-Roe v. Wade but sit as a 39-year-old on the cusp of taking part in a referendum, one that may or may not pave the way for the legalisation of abortion in Ireland.
And I'm almost afraid to tell you how terrified I am of it.
How I struggle most days to engage with it, to even know my own thoughts on it.
How I believe the key to being wholly pro-life is so much more than being optimally pro-birth.
How it is healthcare and childcare and mother support and welfare and all the things we so conveniently forget, and how those very things ARE present in this country. For that, I am grateful.
But this op-ed by Ruth Marcus is being lauded on America's pro-choice shores. This female editor, who - for what it's worth - never had an abortion, is being commended on her courage for the willingness to have one.
What a stand!, they say. She didn't abort, but she would've.
And yes, she could've. That was and is her constitutional right, as it is mine.
But courageous is not the word I'd choose for her essay, her quotes, her ethos. Alarming, elitist and stunning are the words that first come to mind.
I'll begin with her first statement (and one in which I don't totally disagree) that proposed state laws barring women from "terminating their pregnancies after the fetus has been determined to have Down syndrome" are "unconstitutional, unenforceable — and wrong."
Yes, they are unconstitutional. Yes, they are unenforceable. And in some circumstances, depending on the situation, may even be dangerous.
Next, she says that when she had her two children, she was of a certain maternal age for genetic testing; testing, she says, which has the exact purpose of discovering if pregnancies can and should be terminated.
Why? Because health. Mental capabilities. And the ability to make money.
Of course, she writes, she knows many families who birthed, raised and love their children who have Down syndrome.
"But accepting that essential truth is different from compelling a woman to give birth to a child whose intellectual capacity will be impaired, whose life choices will be limited, whose health may be compromised. Most children with Down syndrome have mild to moderate cognitive impairment, meaning an IQ between 55 and 70 (mild) or between 35 and 55 (moderate). This means limited capacity for independent living and financial security; Down syndrome is life-altering for the entire family."
If this is, indeed, her underlying argument, let's dig in. How about any or all learning disabilities, genetic anomalies? Parents with histories of mental illness? Heart defects? Hereditary knee problems? I've got those in spades!
But even just on the basis of mental impairment, if my child is not intelligent, is he or she not worth raising? If my child has a hole in the heart (which is treatable, by the way), is he or she not worth treating, worth saving?
"That was not the child I wanted," Ms Marcus states. "That was not the choice I would have made. You can call me selfish, or worse, but I am in good company. The evidence is clear that most women confronted with the same unhappy alternative would make the same decision."
May we define "unhappy alternatives?" What is that? The only definition Ms Marcus gives is the unhappy alternative of bearing (and financially supporting) a child with Down syndrome. But what part of life allows us a frequent opt-out of unhappy alternatives? And if we are to root out any and all unhappy alternatives set within the DNA of actual humans, who will actually ever fit the bill? If this were The Handmaid's Tale-like atmosphere she believes we're heading towards, the only humans allowed to a right to life would be men with high sperm counts and women with a functioning reproductive system. But that's irony for you.
"Can it be that women have more constitutional freedom to choose to terminate their pregnancies on a whim than for the reason that the fetus has Down syndrome," she asks. Well, yes! That was the exact law fought for, sought out, demanded all those years ago. And it is the same law that is currently on trial in Ireland, the same law being fought over now, the same law that I will one day vote for or against.
But that doesn't make it right, ethical, courageous. It just makes her worldview very, very small.
I think a lot about free will when I think about abortion and "legislating morality." For people of faith, God gave us free will for a reason. He knew we'd get it wrong nine times out of ten, but still He doesn't force any sort of will on us.
Spoiler alert: He gave us the freedom to choose.
He could've made all humans everywhere love Him, but He didn't. He invites us to, instead.
He could've made humans perfectly just, but He didn't. He asks us to work it out with fear and trembling, instead.
He could've made us to be without sin, forever and ever. No pain, no suffering, no evil, no problem. But He didn't.
He forgives us, loves us, saves us, instead.
Ms Marcus cites danger ahead (and a danger I don't altogether dismiss), but her language here goes beyond dangerous. It is inhuman, and the argument she's making denies the humanity not only of a "foetus," but of an entire people group.
There is so much uncertainty in this life, no matter the IQ or APGAR score. And there's no doubt the experiences of my cousin Christina and her family have been hard. BEYOND HARD. But also brighter, freer, lovelier, bolder, stronger, truer... these are the undeniable gifts of knowing and loving a child with Down syndrome.
May Ms Marcus' world be expanded into this beautiful array of boldness and beyond her limited view of it.
She has the privilege to pursue that.
And Christina deserves the right to it.
P.S. Read a statement from Down Syndrome Ireland asking campaigners for or against the legalisation of abortion in Ireland not to use images of or exploit people with Down syndrome, saying in part, "We would also like to remind campaigners on both sides of the debate that people with Down syndrome listen to the news and read media articles, including social media content. We ask that the tone of the debate is respectful towards all people with disabilities."
P.P.S. For more insight into cultures where abortion has nearly eradicated conditions such as Down syndrome, check out my column on the subject for VOX.