Recently, Jezebel published an article titled, “Church Saves Fetus with Downs, Everyone Lives Happily Ever After.” I find this article’s perspective to be perverse. I feel that its cynical tone represents yet *another* example of the mainstream pro choice movement shamelessly *using* the disabled to promote its agenda. (The mainstream pro-life movement does this as well, though in different ways.) Presumably, the woman/parents in question went to her/their priest for help. The mother and her partner decided to follow the priest’s advice and give their child up for adoption. According to Jezebel,the priest’s advice/actions amounted to this:

Here’s a heartwarming story about a Reverend who learned of a young couple planning to abort because their child, if carried to term, would have Down syndrome. “But abortion is sin!” the pastor said (we’re paraphrasing). “Let me pressure you into carrying to term by hastily crowdsourcing an adoptive family!”

Here’s the thing: If you go talk to your spiritual leader about terminating a pregnancy, there’s a good chance that he or she opposes abortion and will try to dissuade you from having one. (Not that all religious leaders feel that way, but many do.) The woman in the case was legally free to choose an abortion, and she decided not to do that. She was free to refuse the priest’s offer, and she accepted it. The fact that the parents involved were free to reject his suggestion isn’t enough for Katie Baker. Perhaps the most sanctimonious part of the post read:

So many mistreated babies and kids with Downs live terrible lives. Instead of throwing resources at a nonviable fetus, why can’t the church help children with Down syndrome that are already alive? Because anti-abortion folks care more about fetuses with fairytale narratives than actual babies.

I deeply resent Baker’s use of the story to imply that opposing the abortion of disabled fetuses indicates a lack of concern for other disabled children, and her assertion that finding a home for a disabled fetus amounts to nothing more than a “feel good” story.” This is demeaning to anyone who is living with a disability and to everyone who has chosen to bear such a child. Incidentally, how many children with Down Syndrome have you adopted, Katie Baker?

Many of the comments on this article are disturbing, as well. For instance, one person wrote:

As good Christers, we realized that we couldn’t abort this fucked-up child we no longer want. Which, obviously, means that Jesus wants us to mail it to someone and then try again for one that will look good on our Christmas cards. Have a blessed day!” 7/10/13 4:39pm

This comment makes me want to use profanity. People with disabilities are not “fucked up.” As a representative of our ableist culture, however, the commenter certainly is. Given a choice between being him/her and being a person with Down Syndrome, I’d choose the latter any day.

Another comment was more restrained, but no less ableist:

Great, I’m happy this couple found a way to deal with their singular situation, but that does not mean this sort of thing is a viable way to solve the problem of unwanted and/or non-viable fetuses. What happened to all the “discarded” families that were not chosen? Did they run out and adopt a different DS baby? 7/10/13 4:21pm

I can’t help but suspect that the distinction this commenter draws between “unwanted” and “non-viable” indicates a conflation of disability and death. Ie, a 23-week old fetus without a disability is “unwanted.” A 23-week-old fetus with a disability is “non-viable.” Both can be aborted, but the latter fetus “wasn’t viable” anyway. (Despite the fact that there are plenty of former “non-viable fetuses” with Down Syndrome walking around.) This kind of conflation may make some people feel better about aborting, but it is not based on science.

After I posted my perspective on Jezebel’s Facebook page, I noticed the following statement placed above the article:


[Note: According to the Washington Times, the Rev. reached out to a couple he heard was planning to abort; they hadn’t considered adoption before and his offer was unsolicited. So the Facebook message isn’t exactly truthful.]

There is nothing in the Washington Times article contradicting the implication that the parents went to the priest for advice and/or solace. Many parents dealing with a prenatal diagnosis do so, whether they choose to terminate or carry to term. Maybe “reached out” means ‘the priest heard about the couple’s plans from his secretary and contacted the couple,” OR, more likely, it means, ‘The devastated mother/parents went to their priest in their hour of need, and told him that they were considering abortion. The priest *reached out* to them and offered to find an adoptive home.’ I suppose that the “truth” behind that part of that situation depends on how one interprets the phrase “reached out.” IRREGARDLESS, Ableism is Ableism. No disability advocate I know, most of whom are pro choice, would ever be “ok” with the tone of this article, because most people in our movement see the decision to birth or adopt a disabled child as something more than a “Christian reality TV series.” Furthermore, the author’s protestations of concern for disabled children are hollow unless she herself is doing more than what the church, or the most active parts of the disability rights movement, do for people with disabilities. Has she participated in ADAPT protests in support of the Community Choice Act? Is she overseeing the educational needs of disabled children in foster care? Has she adopted any children with special needs? Does she give a crap about any of those things beyond using them as an ideological cudgel? Again, I repeat my question: How many mistreated children with Down Syndome, for whom you profess to be concerned, have you adopted, Katie Baker??

(Our second of two posts for this year's Blogging Against Disablism. Thanks to All Our Lives supporter Meghan for sharing her life story.)

Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2011 In 1982, my biological mother found herself in a terrible position. Not only was she pregnant, but she was taking LSD, her mother was an alcoholic, and she was being abused by her mother's boyfriend. She had had an abortion three years before I was conceived. I'm not sure why she decided to carry me to term, but she did.

My Mom and Dad were also in a painful position. After giving birth to my brother, my Mom unknowingly used a defective IUD device that was later found to have injured thousands of women, including her. After undergoing several dangerous and unsuccessful corrective surgeries, she and my Dad decided to adopt.

I have no way to get my biological mother’s perspective on the adoption, information which would provide more insight into how the adoption process impacts the women who choose it. Because she has never tried to make contact with me, I’ve assumed that she would prefer to put the adoption in her past and haven’t attempted to contact her. I do know that the particular agency she chose was an ethical** one and hope she went on to have a joyful, fulfilling life.

I also had the pleasure of meeting my biological father and that side of our family after they made contact a few years ago. They are well and were very happy to meet me. In doing so I learned that I’m Cuban on their side. Although this revelation has had little impact on my life, it’s fun to have that information.

Both situations surrounding the choice of adoption were painful and sad. I certainly agree that it would have been wonderful if my Mom, my biological mother and our relatives hadn’t had to experience the heartbreak that they did. Nevertheless, I am grateful for the adoption that resulted from those experiences, for it was largely responsible for the success I enjoy today.

After I was born, I developed respiratory distress and had to be airlifted to another hospital, where I was placed on a respirator. Because of this I incurred a hefty medical bill. If the state of Kentucky had been unwilling to absorb those costs, it would have been too expensive for most people to adopt me and I would have ended up in foster care. Luckily, the adoption agency convinced the state that doing so was less expensive than taking care of me for eighteen years.

Over the coming years, my adoption afforded me with dedicated parents and stability, something that was particularly important to me as a person with nonverbal learning disorder. Nonverbal Learning Disorder is similar to Asberger Syndrome. NVLD makes it difficult to interpret social cues, which can lead to unintentional breaches of etiquette. It also increases one’s tendency to loose things and become lost, which enhances the difficulty of changing one’s routine. Because of the adoption, I did not have to struggle with the pain and disruption of being moved from place to place.

I also had parents who wanted me very much and who fought valiantly for my rights. As we navigated the educational system, my mother came to every meeting, every doctor’s appointment, and every vocal recital. My Dad and I took long nature walks and gardened together. Because of this love and advocacy, I was able to make the most of my intellectual, spiritual, and emotional gifts. I tend to believe that my parents sunk all the energy they would have used on having multiple children into me and my brother.

This care and attention helped me cope with the persistent bullying I experienced growing up. Whenever I came home from a long day of being told that I was hated, retarded, cursed, or what-have-you, my parents were there to tell me that I was gifted, beautiful, and unconditionally loved. I wouldn’t be the same person if it weren’t for their ability to counteract the vitriol I experienced.

If my biological mother or father had chosen to care for me, I believe that they would have found a way to do it well. If I had been placed in foster care, I’m sure that caring people would have helped me. Adoption, however, was an excellent choice because it enabled me to have everything I needed to grow up and achieve my goals.

Now that I am in graduate school, I volunteer as an educational surrogate parent, which involves making educational decisions on behalf of disabled students in foster care. There are many people in the system who dedicate their time to helping these students achieve their goals and rise above the difficulties they experienced. This makes me believe that they will be all right. Nevertheless, consistent advocacy and familial connection is a much more dependable option.

Every time I go to a meeting, I am grateful to my biological mother for choosing adoption and giving me the gift of parents who were able to be consistent educational advocates. If you are unable to have children and have a heart to help others, consider adopting a child with special needs who needs consistency and the unconditional love of a parent. Children with special needs can be adopted via foster care, international agencies and domestic adoption agencies.

Moreover, if you’re a prospective parent considering adoption for your child, don’t think that a child with special needs cannot be successfully placed. In fact, there are currently waiting lists of people wanting to adopt children with various special needs and disability rights advocacy have lead to more rights and opportunities than ever before.

Canada's Waiting Kids
Be My Parent [Britain]
Adopting a Special-Needs Child [how-to article for Americans]
AdoptUSKids [USA]
National Indian Child Welfare Association [for members of USA's First Nations]
National One Church One Child [helping to place African American kids]

 

**In an infant adoption, an ethical adoption agency will not pressure women or their partners into an adoption decision and will treat them as complete individuals with legal, financial and emotional needs. They will help navigate adoption options, including open, semi-open, and closed adoption and will be honest about all aspects of the process.