Across the globe this week, families are taking the time to show what a gift it is to have their brother, sister, daughter, or son with Down syndrome in their lives. It was just recently that Washington Post opinion columnist Ruth Marcus candidly stated that she would abort her own child if she knew from prenatal testing that they would have Down syndrome:
There is a new push in antiabortion circles to pass state laws aimed at barring women from terminating their pregnancies after the fetus has been determined to have Down syndrome… This is a difficult subject to discuss because there are so many parents who have — and cherish — a child with Down syndrome… I can say without hesitation that…I would have terminated those pregnancies had the testing come back positive. I would have grieved the loss and moved on.
For many, this sounded a little too honest and just down right offensive—especially for ranking Republican congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who has a son with Down syndrome. She took to Twitter to take Ruth Marcus to task (respectfully) to illustrate all the joys and happiness that loving families experience with their Down syndrome children.
Both Rodgers and Marcus acknowledged that over two-thirds of women in America choose to have an abortion in those circumstances but according to Marcus, Rodgers’ happy face response is not how the majority of women may feel about having a child with Down syndrome. In a follow-up piece responding to Rodgers, Marcus highlights the emails she received from women confiding in her that they would’ve made the decision to abort and support a woman’s right to choose. One woman wrote:
I’d never knowingly bring another Down syndrome child into our lives … My son turned 50 last September. He lives in a group home, has worked ... for 29 years and has a good life, with lots of fun and quite a bit of independence. My life has been filled with advocacy for those with developmental disabilities. We are the lucky ones with our son. Nevertheless, I would fight to the dying breath for a woman’s right to choose.
Marcus says women like this represent the “silenced majority.” I don’t how true that is, but both women—the one who chooses to keep her child with Down syndrome and the one who doesn’t—should not be ignored. Everyone dreams for their lives and their children’s lives to be healthy, happy, and prosperous. I doubt any mother with a child that has Down syndrome or any disability would tell you it’s easy and that if they could they would do anything to make their child’s life easier and happier. But l believe Marcus’s words bring attention to a deeper issue in our society than simply the abortion of the disabled.
I’m grateful for Ruth Marcus’s audacious opinion piece because I believe it forces us to really think about what we may treasure most: “the good life.” It speaks to where we are placing our hope and begs the question: is it better to have no life if it can’t be the good life? Why does it matter if they will be born with challenges or discomfort? Is it better to die than to be born with difficulties in life?
In the aftermath of Roe v. Wade, we as a society have tended to emphasize the definition of a good life as one that is easy and comfortable, one without much self-sacrifice. However, the end goal of life should not be comfort but goodness, and sometimes goodness is not always pleasant. It’s the pursuit of what is good (or the lack thereof) that shapes a society. Our laws should reflect what is naturally good, and intrinsic to this is protecting and valuing all innocent life made in the image of God. We do not seek such virtuousness so we can boast of our own achieved morality; we instead pursue goodness because it draws us closer to God—by understanding who he is and who he wants us to be.
We should not live strictly by the creed “you only live once,” as many pop stars have mistakenly sang as an excuse for hedonism. Jesus talked about where your treasures are, there the desires of your heart will also be (Matthew 6:21), so we should store our treasures in heaven where they cannot be destroyed. In this life, we will have troubles—this is not a utopia. The goal of this life is to prepare for the next, and that will give us strength to deal with today. Are we building our life on a firm foundation of truth so that when bad or unpleasant things happen we can stand strong, or are we only putting stock in what we can get out of this life? If we abandon the pursuit of God, it will quickly be replaced with the pursuit of the good life.
Disability, discomfort, or making personal sacrifices does not automatically mean we will have no chance of a “good” life. In fact, the exact opposite occurs when, in those difficult moments, we come face to face with a divine strength and help. I say this not to bash anyone for the decisions they’ve made but to explain that the comfortable life is not necessarily the good life, and this life is not all there is. The natural law is written on our hearts and convicts us to pursue that which is good, and that will in its truest form lead us to God.