Abortion and the Child with Special Needs: A Mother’s Perspective

I remember the day my husband and I received the news about our son. We looked at one another from time to time, affirming what we were hearing. We had been carrying around an ADHD diagnosis for a few weeks. Now we reached out to receive another box, this one full of the 2,000-pound words "Autism Spectrum Disorder."

What would this mean for our family? For our son? For his future?

Four years later, you'll still find us on our knees asking God for help and direction. Like manna from heaven, He faithfully gives us the grace and strength we need for each day—our own daily bread.

These years with our beloved son has shaped our whole family in ways we could have never expected.

Suffering Isn't a Throwaway Experience

People with disabilities, developmental delays, behavioral disorders, and mental illness suffer. Those who love them suffer, too. As much as I shrink back from the word "disability" and search for positive descriptors and labels, the truth is, hardship is a very real part of the experience of anyone with special needs and challenges.

Some even argue that life is too cruel altogether for those with disabilities—that it would be more humane to remove them from the womb and spare them, their families, and society the burden these disabilities bring. We must consider a person's potential "quality of life," we're told.

The Founder of Planned Parenthood's Proposed Solution to Suffering

Margaret Sanger, birth control advocate and founder of the American Birth Control League, which later became Planned Parenthood, took the idea even further. A firm believer in eugenics and population control, Sanger said, "We want a world freer, happier, cleaner—we want a race of thoroughbreds. We want to make America the leading nation of the world physically, mentally, and spiritually."

Hailed as a hero by many for her work in reproductive rights, Sanger strongly supported the eradication of what she called "the unfit." While it seems Sanger earnestly sought to help women gain access to accurate information and to have a greater voice in their own lives, there was an undeniable dark underbelly to her work. In claiming to advocate for "a quality of life," Sanger also argued for death.

What Sanger failed to recognize was her own limited perspective, short-sightedness, biases, and lack of understanding. She believed the human race would be better if only we could eliminate the genetic variants that make us vulnerable to weakness. How would we do this?

By eliminating the weak.

A Scientific Problem with Sanger's Solution

Scientists are now finding that those very same genetic variations that determine the presence of disabilities also give rise to some of the most beautiful and remarkable children in the world, those who sometimes far surpass their typical peers. Known as "the orchid hypothesis," this fairly new way of thinking in genetics claims that while most of us are psychologically resilient like dandelions, the most vulnerable of us, when given the proper environment and care, can sometimes bloom spectacularly like orchids:

Together, the steady dandelions and the mercurial orchids offer an adaptive flexibility that neither can provide alone. Together, they open a path to otherwise unreachable individual and collective achievements. . . . This is a transformative, even startling view of human frailty and strength.

In the quest to extinguish weakness and suffering—then through eugenics, now through abortion—are we wiping out some of the most glorious and splendid diversity on the planet?

Humanity is part of a delicate ecosystem. No human is intellectually or morally qualified to determine who gets to live and who doesn't. Like Sanger, we will always be limited by our own perspective and understanding.

Christ's Call to Embrace and Nurture All Human Life

What should we do then? How do we love beyond our natural abilities and limits? In our own strength we cannot. Loving well is a self-sacrificing and supernatural endeavor. This is why, in a worldview without God, the pro-choice argument to "be realistic" when making the decision to remove a child with a difficult prenatal diagnosis seems so plausible, humane even. Yet who among us doesn't need to be accommodated and loved in spite of personal failures and frailties? Which one of us doesn't have special needs of one kind or another?

As Christians, we know that God has imbued every single human with dignity because every single one of us bears His image. We don't earn the right to be treated with respect because of our strength or our desirableness or how easy we are to care for. We have intrinsic worth because we're on this planet, because we're alive, because God breathed life into us.

I can tell you that our family's life is riddled with difficulties. I have wept it out on the bathroom floor more times than I can count. There have been days when my own life has felt like a prison cell with claw marks lining all four walls. I can only imagine how difficult life must be for our precious son.

Yet isn't joy always tangled up with the difficulty of our daily lives? The human experience is marked with pain from birth until death, but it is also marked by joy and beauty and pleasure. We accept one with the other.

Our son sees patterns in math that make my jaw drop open. He makes me burst into laughter at the oddest times because he sees the world in a delightfully odd way. He's a lot of things wrapped up in one body, as are we all.

Outdo One Another in Showing Honor

We have a high and noble calling as Christians to "bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Gal. 6:2). We are designed to walk in relationship with one another and to raise one another up, to strengthen and love one another fiercely and well. We should be leading the charge of loving every life, discarding no one.

We have much costly and difficult work to do on many fronts to welcome those who need extra care—mothers, fathers, and children alike. Nothing calls us to sacrifice our comforts and our very selves more than love, but nothing in all the world is more precious. Nothing is more divine.

May God help and strengthen us.

This post is adapted from the book​ Women on Life: A Call to Love the Unborn, Unloved, and Neglected.

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About the Author

Jennifer Case Cortez

Jennifer Case Cortez

Jennifer Case Cortez is a literary-agent-turned-stay-at-home-mom who loves connecting women with the Bible and one another. You can find more of Jennifer's writing in The Mom’s Bible, and Women on Life: A Call to Love the Unborn, Unloved & Neglected. In her free time, she enjoys playing the guitar, reading a good book or spending time with her husband, Daniel, and their small flock of Daniel look-alikes: Samuel, Joshua, Jacob, and Evelyn Grace.

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