A few years ago I wrote a post titled The Disappearance of the Disabled. We linked to the post Eradicating the Disabled, by Wilfred McClay. It was a brilliant piece of writing. Wilfred noted that “the “right” to abort has become, increasingly, regarded as a social and moral duty.”
I’ve been thinking about those articles quite a bit. I am old enough to remember when Roe V. Wade declared open season on the preborn. I am old enough to remember the arguments that swirled around it. I remember when the pro-life forces argued that abortion would be used as birth control and that it would lead to the infanticide of disabled infants and the devaluing of life, especially for the disabled, in the public forum. The pro-aborts scoffed and sneered about ‘slipper slope’ fallacies and insisted it would never happen. The Pro-Life forces were right-but they were so right that now the pro-abortion crowd is responding with ‘so what?’ instead of ‘can’t happen.’
The article that prompted Wilfred McClay’s piece is another indication of how far we’ve fallen, but it might also be a glimmer of light. This article by the mother of a child with Down Syndrome who wonders why everybody is in such hot haste to see that children like hers never see the light of day (or life) was able to have her essay published in the Washington Post, hardly a bastion of Pro-Lifers.
Consider this 1998 account by a woman with a disability:
I have had a disability from
birth, it is not genetic. When I was pregnant with my daughter, by gynecologist
did her best to get me to abort. She was so ignorant about disability that she
asked me “What if your baby has a defect like you?” My answer to to her was “So
what if she is?”
I have been in groups with other disabled women who share remarkably similar
experiences with doctors and other health care professionals.
Then there’s the story of Bree Walker Lampley. In the 1990s she was an anchorwoman for a CBS affiliate in LA. Bree has a genetic disability called ectrodactyly. In the unenlightened past it was known as ‘lobster-claw syndrome.’ The bones of the digits in the hands and/or feet are fused together, sometimes looking like pincers, or lobster-claws.
I am reasonably sure that Ms Walker and I do not share many of the same politics or other issues. From other things she’s written, I’m guessing she’s not even pro-life. But she has witnessed firsthand how some very outspoken ‘pro-choice’ voices have used the ‘pro-choice’ mantra to give a semi-respectable sheen to their bigoted anti-disability views.
In 1988 she was working in New York. She says,
“While I was anchoring news broadcasts at WCBS-TV in New York, I got pregnant with my first child, Andrea Walker, and soon found myself at the center of a firestorm of controversy when one of my co-anchors blithely asked on the air whether my parents would have chosen to abort me if they could have known I be born with my disability. This touched off a public discussion of whether women with hereditary disabilities should choose not to have children.”
The irony of a ‘pro-choice’ discussion about whether or not disabled women have a moral right to ‘choose’ to have children is just killing me. It’s killing somebody, anyway.
In 1991 she had moved to L.A., still anchoring for a CBS affiliate and was expecting her second child. A local ‘shock-jock’ type radio personality, Jane Norris, opened up her program for people to call in and voice their opinions about whether or not Bree should be allowed to have children. Callers who told her it was none of her business were told it was everybody’s business. Callers who tried to educate her about the disability (she got several things wrong in her description of ectrodactyly, including the name of the disability) were not permitted on the air.
Bree and her husband filed a complaint with the FCC and others joined them. Bree has said that she did not see it as a free speech issue, but ‘about having balance and fairness in important discussions about people with disabilities.’ The FCC decided not to hear their complaints, and Jane Norris and her radio station insisted they had no regrets about the program. Ms. Walker said that ultimately, what was most important to her was the opportunity to have many voices in the disabled community speak out against injustice and to gain an opportunity to get the word out that disabled people can and do live fulfilling and normal lives. She believes she was ultimately successful in that effort, but it came with a cost. She says, “it definitely did not earn me any brownie points with CBS management. Shortly after that time, I was told by CBS management that this was a troublesome issue and that my choosing to speak out instead of just letting it go away presented a thorny issue for them. They said I was all of a sudden a “Controversial Issue” as opposed to a news reader. … Of course, the same as they were unhappy with me for speaking out, I was unhappy with them for not being proud of me for standing up for this issue.” She left CBS and is pursuing other venues, now, including acting (she was the Scorpion Queen is HBO’s Carnivale).
You can read more about this story here and here. This second link is a PDF file of some length. The section about Bree Walker and Jane Norris is somewhere in the middle- use the search function to find it.
In 1992 I miscarried a baby at 16 weeks. A month later I still had not ‘finished’ miscarrying, and I was definitely not pregnant anymore (sometimes a woman will miscarry a twin, but the other twin will survive- if too hasty phsyicians do not talk her into a D&C), so I had to go into the hospital to have a D & C. We were already in the process of adopting the Cherub at that point. We had met her. I had her picture on our refrigator. We knew she was mentally retarded, and probably not ‘educably’ so.
And there in the sterile operating room on the cold steel table as I went through a grim and ghastly procedure I began to cry. My anesthesiologist asked me what I was crying about. Unable to believe her sheer heartlessness and barely able to speak and hissed out through gritted teeth that I wanted my baby.
Briskly and coldly she dismissed my concerns and said, “No, you don’t want that. This baby was probably handicapped anyway, and you wouldn’t want to bring a handicapped child into the world, would you? Nobody would want that.”
I wanted to scream, “I would, I would!” I wanted to tell her about our Cherub proudly, coldly, fiercely, and in scathing tones. I wanted to push her away. I wanted to push everybody away and get up and walk out of the room.
All I could do was shut my eyes while the tears silently escaped from my closed eyelids and the lump in my throat grew so large it was difficult to breathe.
Are we as a society going to get off this slippery slope and regain the moral high ground by valuing each person simply because he is a person, no matter how long or how short it has been since he was conceived and no matter how whole he is in mind or body? Or we are going to slide faster and farther down into the mire?