NRL News

“The Abortion Debate No One Wants to Have”

by | Mar 27, 2015

By Dave Andrusko

Editor’s note. Yesterday Sarah Terzo reprinted a portion of a column written in 2005 by former Washington Post reporter Patricia E. Bauer. It reminded me of a piece I had written about Bauer’s column which ran in the Post. Most of our readers will have seen neither Bauer’s Post column nor my thoughts.

Patricia E. Bauer

Patricia E. Bauer

While I happened to be waiting at the doctor’s office, a ton of friends and colleagues also forwarded me a story from this morning’s Washington Post: “The Abortion Debate No One Wants to Have,” by Patricia Bauer. The subhead is a corker: “Prenatal testing is making your right to abort a disabled child more like ‘your duty’ to abort a disabled child.”

The column is tremendous on a number of fronts. To begin with, it’s written by a former Post reporter and bureau chief. What’s more, as several people mentioned in their correspondence, it is the second column in less than a month written by a current or former Post staffer to challenge the reigning pro-abortion dogmas.

By far the best course of action is to read the column in its entirety. For those of you who may not have a chance to read, “The Abortion Debate No One Wants to Have,” let me highlight several important points Bauer makes.

Bauer is relentlessly honest–about how people see her child, Margaret, who was born with Down syndrome; about what those attitudes tell us about us; and about how she might have responded had she known in advance that her child would be born with Down syndrome.

#1. How people see her child.

Bauer writes about a prototypical blue-state California dinner party she attended not long ago. She’s seated next to the director of an Ivy League ethics program.

From his Mt. Olympia-esque position, he informs another guest that “he believes that prospective parents have a moral obligation to undergo prenatal testing and to terminate their pregnancy to avoid bringing forth a child with a disability, because it was immoral to subject a child to the kind of suffering he or she would have to endure.”

When Bauer tries to inject that Margaret doesn’t see her life as “unremitting human suffering,” Mr. Ivy League “smiled politely and turned to the lady on his left.”

But while no doubt our professor of ethics could dress up his discriminatory perspective in fancy rhetorical clothing, he is only giving a tonier justification for what is, alas, a pervasive view in our culture. Between 80% and 90% of babies diagnosed to have Down syndrome are aborted.

As Bauer writes, “Whenever I am out with Margaret, I’m conscious that she represents a group whose ranks are shrinking because of the wide availability of prenatal testing and abortion.”

I have noticed in passing something Bauer experiences routinely. People look at children with Down syndrome with a mixture of curiosity and disapproval but also alarm. “I know that most women of childbearing age that we may encounter have judged her and her cohort, and have found their lives to be not worth living.”

#2. What our reaction says about us.

Bauer is at her best when she writes about Down syndrome, abortion, and what she calls “the category of avoidable human suffering.” Her keenest insight is how young women can look at Bauer and Margaret and configure the situation in an all-purpose exculpatory way.

“Many young women, upon meeting us, have asked whether I had ‘the test,'” Bauer writes. “I interpret the question as a get-home-free card. If I say no, they figure, that means I’m a victim of circumstance, and therefore not implicitly repudiating the decision they may make to abort if they think there are disabilities involved. If yes, then it means I’m a right-wing antiabortion nut whose choices aren’t relevant to their lives.” She concludes. “Either way, they win.”

Children like Margaret are seen, Bauer writes, as “at best, a tragic mistake. At worst, a living embodiment of the pro-life movement. Less than human. A drain on society.” How does that affect Bauer? “That someone I love is regarded this way is unspeakably painful to me.”

Of course, seeing children with imperfections as “mistakes” to be avoided at all cost is hardly confined to women alone. It is the prism through which many see. That is not a pretty picture.

Bauer points out the many ironies involved. For starters, “I have to think that there are many pro-choicers who, while paying obeisance to the rights of people with disabilities, want at the same time to preserve their right to ensure that no one with disabilities will be born into their own families.”

This attitude flourishes, even though “Today people with Down syndrome are living much longer and healthier lives than they did even 20 years ago,” she writes. “Buoyed by the educational reforms of the past quarter-century, they are increasingly finishing high school, living more independently and holding jobs.”

Yet children with disabilities are vanishing. The only difference between us and the ancient Romans is theirs was a low-tech solution: they abandoned the child. We don’t leave anything to chance. We use sophisticated technology to engage in search-and-destroy missions whose sole purpose is to extirpate imperfection.

But not to worry: We practice eugenics with a happy face. We breezily tell ourselves that everyone is “better off,” beginning with the kid, if the parents “start over”–that is to say, abort the “imperfect” child.

#3. What it says about Bauer.

Bauer does not paint herself as some paragon of virtue, morally superior to all the rest of us. In a sentence that speaks volumes, she writes, “If we might not have chosen to welcome her into our family, given the choice, then that is a statement more about our ignorance than about her inherent worth.”

Bauer asks how we can write off an entire group of people and if that attitude might change. “I’d like to think that it’s time to put that particular piece of baggage on the table and talk about it, but I’m not optimistic,” she writes. “People want what they want: a perfect baby, a perfect life. To which I say: Good luck. Or maybe, dream on.”

My wife and I and our four children have our fair share of obstacles to overcome, but nothing really serious. Thus I would never, ever piously talk about how facing immense difficulties is ennobling.

But it is also true that the older I get and the more I experience, the surer I am that the measure of who we are as human beings is what we can give to others, especially when that may require great sacrifice.

I have a sister who, along with her husband and other children, is raising an adult with severe mental disabilities. Their strength of character, deep loyalty, and utter commitment to one another humbles me every time we visit them. They would never pretend that their life is easy, but I suspect they feel toward their son exactly the way Bauer and her husband feel toward Margaret.

“Margaret is a person and a member of our family,” she writes. “She has my husband’s eyes, my hair and my mother-in-law’s sense of humor. We love and admire her because of who she is — feisty and zesty and full of life — not in spite of it. She enriches our lives.”

Categories: Abortion