‘Struggling to Find Our Way’ on Abortion

I’ve discussed before that I am finding even that most polarizing of subjects, abortion, to be less and less clear cut.

As a further example, I offer Emily Rapp’s poignant and powerful piece for Slate this week – in which she argues that had she known of her son’s genetic disorder, she would have aborted him:

If I had known Ronan had Tay-Sachs (I met with two genetic counselors and had every standard prenatal test available to me, including the one for Tay-Sachs, which did not detect my rare mutation, and therefore I waived the test at my CVS procedure), I would have found out what the disease meant for my then unborn child; I would have talked to parents who are raising (and burying) children with this disease, and then I would have had an abortion. Without question and without regret, although this would have been a different kind of loss to mourn and would by no means have been a cavalier or uncomplicated, heartless decision. I’m so grateful that Ronan is my child. I also wish he’d never been born; no person should suffer in this way—daily seizures, blindness, lack of movement, inability to swallow, a devastated brain—with no hope for a cure. Both of these statements are categorically true; neither one is mutually exclusive.

It reminded me of a series of posts Andrew Sullivan ran after George Tiller, the Kansas doctor who performed late-term abortions, was murdered. He called it “It’s So Personal.” A couple of the stories:

We were told that the ultrasound suggested strongly that our second child would be born, if she madeit that far, with a Trisomy 18 birth defect. There were cysts on her fetal brain that were indicative. Her death before birth or just after was highly likely. If she survived against the odds, it was almost certain that she would suffer from severe birth defects and profound developmental delays. Her short life would be taken up with corrective surgery and pain, none of which she would be able to understand but which she would suffer. The amniocentesis would let us know for sure.

There was that time while we waited when we had to decide what we would do if the news was bad. While my wife and I believe in a right to choose, we strongly feel that life is always the first choice if possible. Even so, we could not allow our daughter to undergo this. We would terminate our pregnancy and spare her. The news came back good and Meg is 16, wonderful and on her way to a career as an artist. It’s not the decision that matters; it’s why it’s made. It’s parents struggling through terrible choices. And their only hope and help is with the doctors. We are all struggling badly to find our way.

At 17 weeks gestation our baby had been diagnosed with major heart defects requiring a minimum of three risky open-heart surgeries beginning at birth, and would later require a heart transplant. At 19 weeks we were finally given our amnio results which revealed our baby also had Trisomy 21.

A surgeon at the major teaching hospital where we’d had our fetal echocardiogram informed us that even if our baby somehow survived his palliative surgeries, this latest diagnosis meant he would not ever be eligible for a heart transplant. As we sat talking quietly in our living room, our priest shared with us that he’d spent time at the same hospital where we’d had our fetal echocardiogram and where our son would have had surgery.

He was there to support the family of a three-month-old who was having heart surgery. In the three weeks or so that he tended to this family, he also met 10 other families in the waiting room, each of whom also had young babies undergoing heart surgery. Sadly, within the short space of time our priest was there, every single one of those babies died.

Our priest came away from that experience feeling that this world-renowned children’s hospital was basically experimenting on babies. He saw their futile suffering and likened it to being crucified. The family he had gone there to support later told him that if they had only known what their baby would be forced to go through before dying, they would never have chosen surgery. Our priest told us that he believed we were not choosing our son’s death, only choosing the timing of his death in order to spare him a great deal of suffering. Something he said that brought us great comfort was “God knows what is in your hearts.” God knows our choice was based on mercy and compassion. Who would better understand our hearts than God, who made the choice for His own Son to die?

When Christians talk about abortion, we tend to talk about teenagers making stupid mistakes and sneaking off to Planned Parenthood so they can get their lives back. That is certainly a large part – even the greater part – of the reason why people have abortions, and I fully believe such a disregard for the value and importance of life tears at our society and grieves the God who made and sustains that life. We must find ways to reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies and encourage those considering abortions to place their children for adoption instead.

But in our haste to condemn abortion, we are surely grieving the hearts of those moms and dads who fully intended to carry their child to term – until they found out that doing so would lead to a brutally short, brutally painful life.

Did these parents make the right decision? As a father of three healthy daughters whose palms get sweaty every single time they run on concrete because I can barely stand the thought of their falling onto the pavement, I don’t think it’s my place to say. Is it yours?

And if it’s not my place or yours, is it our government’s? That is, is it our place to say in our role as the taxpayers, voters and members of the government?

The more I live, the more I realize the world is simply not black and white. Even those subjects that seem so clear cut, it turns out the closer I look, the more I simply see lighter and darker shades of gray. We are all struggling badly to find our way. God gives us the grace to do that; may he give me the strength to extend that grace to others, too.

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3 comments on “‘Struggling to Find Our Way’ on Abortion

  1. Aaron says:

    First off, I think every Christian needs to read the Slate piece and think on it long and hard. It is moving and engaging, and I can’t help but feel the pain pouring out of those words.
    But do you think that the same sense of pity and love could lead to the killing of, say, newborns with similarly horrible conditions? I hate to use that sort of logic and be the slippery-slope guy, but that’s something that worries me.
    But perhaps that is something that we ought to be questioning as well. I don’t know.

    All I know is that I believe when we talk about an unborn child, we are talking about a human being on the first stages of his or her journey. Abortion doesn’t stop the life before it starts – it ends a life that is real.
    A human life belongs to God. We can wish – under dreadful circumstances such as those that have been described here – that a child had not been born and still be one hundred percent faithful to Christ. But God is the author and owner of life. It is not our possession. It is his.

    I don’t want to sound to judgmental. Even if I am right and we are talking about the taking of fully human life when we talk about abortion, I am certain that he will pour out grace on those who acted in accordance with their consciences. I hope God will do the same for me if I am wrong!

    • Paul says:

      Hi Aaron. Thanks for visiting!

      You make a good point about the line between prenatal and newborn babies. What’s the difference? That we can’t see one of them? That seems a little arbitrary. On the other hand, this is the argument that takes place about assisted suicide and removing people from life support. When, if ever, is it OK to end a life? It’s not such an easy answer, and even the most ardent adopters of the “pro-life” label seem to find themselves supporting policies that kill people, whether capital punishment, wars or policies that affect care and support for the poor.

      Which I guess is my whole point: The world is a gray place, and this subject isn’t really any different.

  2. Virtual Paul says:

    So true. I used to think of everything as black/white. Now with age and life experiences, I also find things as shades of gray.

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