I poached this pic of a prematurely-born baby from Bump Babies Beyond. She’s 24 weeks and a tiny, protect-me-I’m-beautiful miracle. Chilling to think that until 1990 babies a whole four weeks older than this could be legally aborted; in fact, of course, abortion up until birth is legal even now in the case of “severe foetal abnormality”. The definition of severe abnormality seems to be a movable goalpost, as the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists itself admits: “The RCOG has stated that a strict definition is impractical because we do not have sufficiently advanced diagnostic techniques to detect malformations accurately all of the time and it is not always possible to predict the ‘seriousness' of the outcome (in terms of the long-term physical, intellectual or social disability on the child and the effects on the family).”
This piccie (thanks Katherine at Five Feet Above Sea Level) shows an “abnormal foetus”, Taya Kennedy, who was not aborted on the grounds of a sinister but fallible diagnosis of quality of life. The words below could surely be hers. They were actually spoken by Anya Souza, who has Down’s Syndrome and showed up at an International Downs Syndrome Screening Conference - uninvited and unencouraged, needless to say. I discovered them on SPUC’s website.
"I can't get rid of my Down's syndrome, but you can't get rid of my happiness. You can't get rid of the happiness I give others either. It's doctors like you that want to test pregnant women and stop people like me being born. Together with my family and friends I have fought to prevent my separation from normal society. I have fought for my rights... I may have Down's syndrome but I am a person first."
A person first... We invent so many moral mazes for ourselves, splitting the path between left and right where in fact the way ahead is clear, if hard. From the moment of conception a human life is a person with a right to life and all our subsequent decisions about them should be made on that basis. If they are not perfect, if they will know suffering – these things will affect how we look after that person, but they do not affect the basic premise. To say this isn’t to ignore the difficulties brought by hard circumstances, disability or pain. It’s just to say that the only truly fruitful way ahead is start with the right to life and the dignity of the person. After that, it is easier to know what to do, even if the road is uphill. If we start to admit of the possibility of destroying the foundation stone of the path, of ignoring the first signpost – the right to life – then we get lost, badly lost, and the maze closes down.
Before my metaphors become too tortured, let me refer to an excellent post from the Sisters of the Gospel of Life dealing with the “hard case” that is often thrown at pro-lifers – why should a woman be forced to cope with an unintended pregnancy and birth if she is the innocent victim of rape? The Sisters quote Ken Connor of Lifenews.com who refers straight back to that first principle, the right to life, in order to keep the argument clear.
“In this life, we cannot always undo the effects of sin and violence. We can only seek to mitigate the adverse consequences of such acts. Killing an unborn baby does not erase the pain and trauma imposed by rape. It is rather a form of misdirected retribution, revenge meted out against an innocent child because of the act of his or her parent. In the case of rape, the mother deserves our love and help and support. The perpetrator deserves punishment. But the child, once conceived, deserves to live.”
Things aren't easy when you are facing a crisis pregnancy or caring for a child with a disability. There are still practical decisions to make and many of them are difficult. But we can make it so much harder for ourselves when we muddy the moral waters right from the start.