I take umbrage when people call me pro-abortion. Personally, those are fighting words. I, and no person I know, is “pro” abortion. Such a charge is little more than invective meant to cast an aspersion upon those who are pro-choice: You are pro murder, this charge intimates. You wantonly take life and think nothing of it. Nothing could be further from the truth.
But I also find the moniker pro-life to be equally problematic. Believe me, I understand the issues people have with abortion. It is not a pleasant topic, and it is one that elicits a great deal of emotion. From the very terminology–fetus versus baby; mother versus pregnant woman–we find ourselves engaging in coded speech that, by its very nature, is meant to engender a response. But more and more, I wonder how “pro-life” are many of the opponents of reproductive choice. Take, for example, the most recent bill that passed the Arizona Senate by a vote of 20-9. According to the Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/09/wrongful-birth-bill-arizona-senate-abortion-bill_n_1335117.html), this bill will allow for a doctor to withhold information from a pregnant mother and not face future lawsuits if/when a child is born with disabilities or birth defects. Indeed, similar bills are already law in nine states, and are known as “wrongful birth” or “wrongful life” laws. These laws allow for an individual doctor to place his or her personal opinions regarding abortion at the forefront, and thereby color the medical information that is provided to the pregnant woman. This doctor may not know the financial situation in which the woman finds herself; this doctor may not know the way in which the woman came to be impregnated (by rape or incest, for example); and this doctor may not know if the woman is emotionally capable of caring for a child with severe developmental issues. None of these factors need to be taken into account. Nope. If the doctor is “pro-life,” then this doctor can withhold whatever he or she decides is worth withholding, especially if it means that the fetus will be brought to term.
How does this support the life of the mother? Or of the child, once it is delivered and is no longer in the sanctity of the womb?
Color me confused, though, as to what is going on nationally. With the most recent law in Virginia, women who are seeking an abortion must submit to a medically unnecessary ultrasound (http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-57392796-503544/virginia-gov-bob-mcdonnell-signs-virginia-ultrasound-bill/). While the doctor cannot force the woman to look at the results, one wonders: if the ultrasound reveals that the fetus will develop certain problems, will said information be withheld from the pregnant woman? Let’s suppose that there emerges a perfect storm in which the Virginia legislation and a “wrongful birth” law both pass in the same state. A woman comes in for a legal abortion and is forced to submit to an ultrasound; she views the ultrasound image and decides that she will carry the fetus to term. Unbeknownst to her, the fetus will develop a myriad of developmental problems that will require tens of thousands of dollars a year to treat, and around the clock care. This woman has no insurance, no support system, and works a minimum wage job. My questions is: Who will be willing to help her? Where are the programs that have adequate funding to provide consistent, dependable care for both the child and the mother? Where are the pro-life groups when this woman loses her job because she is caring for a child who will never mentally develop past the age of three? While I do not mean to say that there is not nuance to the pro-life position, and I know that there are good groups out there which do provide some assistance after the child has been delivered, the fact is there are not enough such groups. Many organizations focus on seeing that the child is brought to term, and then abandon the mother in order to “save” other babies. Most often, the mother who has delivered a child with developmental disabilities finds herself alone, having to fend for herself (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/13857062/ns/health-childrens_health/t/more-disabled-kids-living-single-women/#.T1p9F3mcySo).
Don’t get me wrong. I am NOT advocating that all fetuses that are identified with developmental issues be aborted. While respecting the privacy of my friends, I will say that two of my lifelong friends have a child who has a severe developmental disability. This child is one of the most beautiful, energetic, amazing human beings I have ever met. This child brings a smile to the face of everyone. It is difficult to imagine the world without this wonderful, amazing little girl. But I see how they struggle, and the challenge it has been for them, the strain it has put on them both financially and emotionally. Luckily, they are surrounded by love and support. I have other friends who also parent children with disabilities, and I cherish these children as well. In all cases, though, the parents were provided information about their situation. It was not hidden from them, so they were able to go about preparing themselves. Not knowing, one parent told me, until the day of delivery would have been so much worse than finding out beforehand.
To me, being pro-life is about respecting both the quality and quantity of life. It is about respecting how the lives of the parents and those close to them will be changed by the reality of a disabled child. It is not about eugenics; it is not about wanting to do away with those who are not “normal.” Yet, I do not see how keeping vital information from a pregnant woman is the right of a doctor, and I fail to see how a government can have the ability to reach into an examining room and allow for a trained professional to use his or her own personal feelings as a measuring stick for administering medical advice. How is that being “pro-life”?
In the end, I see this onslaught of laws concerning women’s health to be paternalistic, condescending, and hypocritical. A person who supports the Virginia legislation on the basis that it “provides the greatest deal of information” cannot logically support the Arizona bill, which allows for information to be withheld (http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2012/0223/Abortion-wars-Virginia-retreats-on-invasive-probe-in-ultrasound-bill-video). Despite what talking heads like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Rielly say, I do see a war on women being unleashed. More to the point, though, if we want to be a society that values lives, why not be honest about the needs of the children and families that live with the challenges presented by severe disabilities? Even Rick Santorum, who has a child with a disability, acknowledges how expensive it is to care for such a child (http://www.christianpost.com/news/rick-santorum-explains-his-low-rate-of-charitable-giving-70799/). Mr. Santorum has been blessed to make a very good living and can provide for his family; a vast majority of Americans who have disabled children do not have the financial or family resources available to the former senator. Is that an argument for abortion? Not necessarily. I believe that it is the right of each mother (and father, where applicable) to make that decision, but we should have a serious conversation about how insurance companies, government agencies, and non-governmental organizations need to provide cradle to grave assistance (financial, emotional, services-based, etc) if we really want to advance “pro-life” values in this country.