Wednesday, January 31, 2018

When Prolife articles stop being meaningful

If you are Catholic and look around on Catholic or pro-life news sites, unfortunately you will come across many articles like Judie Brown's on Catholic Lane which offer the boilerplate defense of pro-life values without engaging in meaningful intellectual discussion on today's pro-life movement and the present moment we face as a society.

Here is my comment, or response to Brown's article:

There is a danger in reducing a person's view point to a single quote. I agree that this quote Brown highlights in the opening paragraph, appears contradictory and problematic. How can we ascribe value to human life and yet life have intrinsic value? Perry says both. It would have been better if Brown had linked to the article in which Perry stated this to get the full context, instead of another opinion piece on When I eventually clicked my way to Perry's original article, and another article on CRISPR written for the Nation, it becomes clear that Perry does believe that all human life has intrinsic worth. Yet he is pro-choice. I agree this is a difficult stance to defend and I do not agree with Perry. Yet it is important to see where he is coming from, perhaps more so than to attack the idea that one could be a father of someone with Downs Syndrome and yet prochoice. Brown attacks repeatedly the idea that we can "ascribe" value to human life. This is certainly true from a Catholic perspective. However, Perry is writing for a secular audience, and unfortunately, the world we operate within does indeed ascribe more value to some human lives than others, whether or not it is our place to do so. When Perry says "I’ve spent many years now asserting the need to re-order how we ascribe value to diverse human lives," I think it is precisely the devaluing of the lives of people with Down Syndrome he is fighting against. Perhaps he should have phrased it differently, and instead of "we" he could have said "people." While in truth we cannot ascribe value to human life, sadly this is something society does through all sorts of systems (imprisonment, abortion, euthanasia, inequalities in education, access to health-care, etc.) Perry in his articles goes on to support what he calls "neurodiversity" and indeed goes on to explain how people with Down Syndrome can contribute to economies and lead happy lives and help make families and marriages stronger. And yet, based on his writing, he does not seem to make human worth contingent on how we contribute to economies or make our families happy. Perhaps the statement we need focus on here is the point of commonality between Church teachings and Perry's views: "My son might not participate in the capitalist economy, live independently, or speak (he might also do all of these things!), but his value as a human is intrinsic."
Brown's article should focus on how can someone who has a son with Down Syndrome and believes human life has intrinsic worth, still be prochoice. She takes his quote totally out of context and does not look deeply into this man's beliefs, which is easily done by reading a few of his articles. He places the basis of his pro-choice stance in the idea of bodily autonomy. People with disabilities have a very long history of having their bodies controlled, from forced sterilizations, forced medications and procedures, to the ultimate control: euthanasia or termination. Perry stands in solidarity with some people in the disabled (or differently-abled) community: this long history of bodily control that has only very recently been overturned in very modern human history (and is still not fully overturned on a global scale) fears prevention of abortion as another way to force or coerce control over their bodies. Of course not everyone in the disabled community is on the same page with this belief. Many are prolife. Even if you disagree with Perry's stance, there is value in seeing the roots of his perspective to more authentically engage in meaningful dialogue about his beliefs.
A more interesting article would be to look at Perry's prochoice stance as rooted in disabled rights and the fear of control over the bodies of disabled people. The key word here is "fear." When our beliefs and actions are coming from a place of fear, then this is the larger problem. If a mother wants to terminate a pregnancy out of fear that the disability will be too much to bear, the problem is the fear driving the mother. If disabled people are prochoice because of fear of society legislating control over their bodies, again the problem here is the fear driving them. As a society we need to overcome the basis of this fear by being so supportive of differently abled people, and so supportive of people with these diagnoses, that it takes the fear away. We need to have abundant services, medically and otherwise, for people with disabilities. We need a social safety net for such people, access to healthcare, employment, education, counseling, etc., so that life is not viewed as a sentence, but a well-supported, meaningful existence.
Perry points out in his essay the hypocrisy of some Republican pro-lifers who would make it impossible to terminate a pregnancy based on prenatal diagnosis, but who cut funding for special education and disability services. (Source:
We need to spend more time understanding where people like Perry are coming from and building from our common ground: respect for all human life as having intrinsic worth. I think that from there we can see how Perry is doing right by drawing attention to the slashing of services to disabled people. There is a common ground all Catholics should come together over: supporting individuals and families with disabilities.
We should focus on building a strong society to support and love such individuals, with easy access to strong services. We should focus on getting accurate information out to families facing a prenatal diagnosis on Down Syndrome and perhaps putting them in touch with other families with children with Down Syndrome, rather than scaring them with a diagnosis and pressuring them into abortion. We need to work on our genetic counseling and health practitioner counseling, so that families aren't making decisions from a place of fear.
Fear is our enemy. A poor prenatal diagnosis is most pregnant women's worst fear. As a society we need to offer them and their children options for hope and support.
Not to mention it is morally problematic to outlaw abortions based on prenatal diagnosis, when morally speaking, no abortion should be legal. It seems to me that the prolife movement is getting desperate. Faced with the difficulty of overturning Roe v. Wade and making abortion illegal, the prolife movement today focuses on chipping away access in select places and in select cases. A woman who faces a poor prenatal diagnosis, can simply say the abortion is for other reasons, not for the diagnosis, and still have her abortion. This kind of legislation solves nothing, but allows pro-life legislators to put a false feather in their cap that they have "done something" to support the movement. A more meaningful pro-life moment would be one that engages in dialogue with parents like Perry to see what they could do to be more supportive of families raising children with Down Syndrome and other life-long disabilities.


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