“A society will be judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members.” ― John Paul II.1
Try to imagine for just for a moment the heartbreak of a young couple discovering that their unborn child faces a serious or fatal birth defect such as hypoplastic left heart syndrome. After the initial shock, they quickly realize that many tough obstacles lay ahead, problems that other parents just don’t have to face.
One young husband and wife we know faced this tragedy last year. In addition to hearing that their preborn baby had HLHS, the mother was immediately put on full bed rest due to placenta previa. Her husband worked himself to near exhaustion cooking all of their meals, cleaning the house, caring for their very active toddler, commuting, and working a full-time job. They did everything they could to make sure their baby would be born large enough so that she could survive the surgeries needed to heal her “tiny broken heart.”
After four months of this grueling pilgrimage, the young wife — our daughter-in-law, Gina — gave birth to a beautiful daughter. Our son Paul baptized her Phoebe Leilani, “Flower of Heaven.” Phoebe, at just over two pounds, was too small for heart surgery. So Paul and Gina and their son Jonah loved her with all their hearts during her short time on this earth. When Paul saw our sorrow as we visited them in the hospital room, he said words we will never forget: “You guys know. It’s always a great day when a baby is born.”
After only two hours of life, Phoebe passed from the loving arms of her parents into the loving arms of God. Our pastor said a wonderful funeral Mass for her and was present with many others from our parish as she was laid to rest on the Furtado family farm.
Our son and his wife gave us a wonderful example of the only human, the only humane, the only holy course of action to take when caring for a very sick preborn baby. For a child with the most severe of disabilities, we must ask ourselves which is the most loving way to deal with the situation: To allow the child to die in the loving arms of his parents or in agony at the hands of the abortionist’s merciless, razor-sharp surgical instruments?
While our world celebrates beauty and perfection, many of us are losing our ability to see the loveliness in the face of a disabled child who may not meet our standards of beauty. To kill someone because he or she is less than perfect is to reject the battered and marred face of Christ as well. Truly, He was most beautiful when He suffered for us, just as parents are most beautiful when they suffer and sacrifice for the sake of their disabled child.
To judge a person by his or her disabilities is to see that person as a material good, not as a person with intrinsic worth. Our Lord Jesus Christ embraced and healed the poor, the disabled, the deformed, the diseased. If we are to follow His example, we must do the same.
Society in general is finding it easier and easier to dispose of the disabled. Thirty years ago, we cared for those weaker than ourselves. Now, genetic testing is leading to more and more eugenic abortion for smaller and less important disabilities, such as deafness or cleft palate. In fact, more than a million babies worldwide are aborted each year because of the dreaded “disability” of being female!
No matter how strictly lawmakers draw up exceptions, the abortionists will always construct elaborate and dishonest rationales to bypass them. Phill Kline, former attorney general of Kansas, explained how third-trimester abortionist George Tiller would abuse the law: “We had at one point an exception that allowed late-term abortions on viable children if there was a severe fetal anomaly. Dr. Tiller found a ‘severe fetal anomaly’ in instances involving cleft palate, Down syndrome, and healthy twins. ... The logic of it is clear: Twins are an anomaly, are they not? And they can have a severe economic impact on the family. That’s what happens to the law when you don’t believe in truth.”2
Most expectant husbands and wives naturally worry at least a little bit about the possibility of serious birth defects. In reality, they are quite rare. Six states surveyed 1.3 million women who had abortions, and found that only 0.59% chose abortion because of their child’s disability.3
Hymie Gordon, MD, was known as the “Father of Fetology.” He determined that 16-year-old girls giving birth have a 1 in 570 chance of having a baby with a serious or fatal birth defect. In other words, 99.82% of their babies are born perfectly healthy. As the mother’s age increases, the incidence of serious or fatal birth defects rises, but still remains small. At the age of 35, pregnant mothers can expect a 99.48% probability of having a perfectly health baby, and at 40, the probability is 98.48%.4
One of the greatest fears that older expectant parents have is the possibility of Down syndrome. They think that having such a child will make their life miserable. This widespread attitude means that about 90% of all preborn children diagnosed with DS are aborted.
Parents who abort their Down syndrome child are thinking only of themselves. After all, our greatest hope is that our children will be happy, and as anyone who has lived with or worked with children with Down syndrome knows, they tend to be happier than those reading this article right now.
A major 2011 study of the attitudes of people with Down syndrome and their families, published in the American Journal of Medical Genetics, revealed that 99% of parents loved their DS son or daughter, 97% were proud of them, and 79% felt their outlook on life was more positive because of them. Only 5% were embarrassed by them and a mere 4% regretted having them.
Ninety-nine percent of people with Down syndrome were happy with their lives, making them the happiest identifiable group of human beings in existence. Ninety- seven percent liked who they are, 96% liked how they look, and 86% easily made friends.
Ninety-six percent of their brothers and sisters said they loved their sibling with DS, and 94% said that they were proud of their brother or sister with Down Syndrome. Eighty-eight percent felt they were better people because of their sibling with DS. Less than 10% felt embarrassed, and less than 5% expressed a desire to “trade their sibling in” for a “normal” brother or sister.5
God tells us in Jeremiah 1:5, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you came to birth I consecrated you.”
A child with a birth defect is still a child — no matter how serious his disability. We poor human beings, with our limited intelligence and vision, cannot even begin to perceive the intricacies of God’s plans for our own lives, let alone His intentions for a child who has not even been born yet.
Christians believe that a disability — even a serious one — does not make a person any less human. This means that abortion for birth defects can never be justified.
Disabled children present us with a difficult problem. Society’s answer to this problem will decide whether we truly reflect the glory of God in our families and in our society. If we welcome the child who is “less than perfect,” in either his appearance or his abilities, then we are more truly a human — and Godly — people. If we reject the child in our midst, we are rejecting God’s gift to us — and therefore God Himself.
Pope John Paul II, address to a the Ambassador of New Zealand to the Holy See, May 25, 2000, http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/speeches/2000/apr-jun/documents/hf_jp-ii_spe_20000525_ambassador-new-zealand_en.html
Phill Kline, former Attorney General of Kansas, quoted in Kathleen Gilbert. "Late-Term Healthy Twins Counted as `Severe Fetal Anomaly’ for Abortionist Tiller: Former Prosecutor." LifeSite Daily News, May 9, 2012.
For a summary of calculations and references supporting this figure, e-mail Brian Clowes at firstname.lastname@example.org and request Excel spreadsheet F-03-01.XLS.
For a summary of calculations and references supporting these numbers, e-mail Brian Clowes at email@example.com and request Excel spreadsheet F-03-06.XLS.
B.G. Skotko, S.P Levine and R. Goldstein. “Having a Son or Daughter with Down Syndrome: Perspectives from Mothers and Fathers.” American Journal of Medical Genetics, 2011 [Part A], pages 2,335-2,347; B.G. Skotko, S.P Levine and R. Goldstein. “Self-Perceptions from People with Down Syndrome.” American Journal of Medical Genetics, 2011 [Part A], pages 2,360-2,369; B.G. Skotko, S.P Levine and R. Goldstein. “Having a Brother or Sister with Down Syndrome: Perspectives from Siblings.” American Journal of Medical Genetics, 2011 [Part A], pages 2,348-2,359.
“What about Abortion for Serious or Fatal Birth Defects?” The Wanderer, August 2, 2012, page 8B.