Saturday, May 29, 2010

In the Judging

[NOTE: please read to the end for various notes/caveats about this topic. If you chose to comment, please do so nicely.]

Last week, I had an interesting exchange in a meeting I was having. During the course of the conversation, I shared that I had a child with Down Syndrome, but not the birth defect that my organization represents. Somehow, it ends up that the person I was meeting with said something along the lines of how good it was that I made the right decision to have our E because life was sacred.

I replied that yes, I (we, 'cause The Man was in agreement) felt we made the right decision for us given the circumstances, but that I'd defend anyone's right to terminate a pregnancy for any reason. The person said that I was more forgiving or tolerant (something like that) than she was and that she felt the same way once, but not any longer. Life was sacred.

I hate these sanctimonious statements from people who profess they are of faith. Who blindly follow the biggest and shiniest church and don't work to truly have a godly life. How is it that I (who would be charitably called an agnostic and most likely labeled a raging atheist) know that in the Christian tradition that He loved the sinners (even washed their feet!) and that people should not cast stones? How is it that I (godless heathen that I am) can find compassion for the women who have terminated/aborted a pregnancy, but those who follow Jesus can't?

Here's what I know from personal observation and experience. The women that I know who voluntarily ended their pregnancy did so because of a combination of reasons. That in the end reasoning, the weighing of options, and probably against their deepest hearts desire, the choice to abort was more appealing than whatever future they envisioned. Stop and think about that for a minute. Think about the circumstances that would make abortion more appealing than having a child. Can you imagine it? If you can't, then you should be grateful because for many women, it's their reality.

I was lucky in that my dr., when giving us the prenatal diagnosis of Down Syndrome, gave us facts and information both about raising a child (she had another patient with a child with DS) as well as what would happen (e.g., the process) if we chose to terminate. Her (and her staff's) relief was visibly palpable when I saw her at my next appointment and she said how happy she was to not to have to do the procedure. My experience, though, is certainly not the norm. In fact, it's an outlier. I can easily find ten women with prenatal diagnoses whose doctor told them to terminate. Trusted medical professional telling you to terminate after giving you news about something you know nothing about and have only the vaguest idea about (and that probably fairly negative). It's no wonder that the termination rate is around 90% for pregnancies with a prenatal diagnosis of Down Syndrome. I'd assume that's also true for other birth defects/conditions.

Having had the news before and knowing that for a few hours termination was an option, I can tell you, it's a no win situation. End the pregnancy because of the birth defect and have to live with that choice (especially since it was a planned pregnancy, which is probably also true for many of the 90% figure mentioned above) or live with the child with the condition. In those moments, when you're considering it, the condition (Trisomy 18, Down Syndrome, Fragile X, Spina Bifida, etc.) becomes all, not the child. Clearly, for many (90%) they don't get to the point where the child becomes more than the condition before the "window" to safely terminate closes.

Can no one find compassion for women (and their husbands and families) facing these circumstances? Do you not understand that in these circumstances (especially if planned pregnancy) that these women live with their choice for the rest of their lives just as surely as they would have lived with their child?

I don't think it's a failure for a woman in the above circumstances to make a different choice than the one I (we) did. In fact, I'd rather a pregnancy be terminated than for the family to have an unwanted child. But yes, you say, what about these whores of Babylon who are getting knocked up and using abortions as birth control? Surely, they deserve our condemnation not our compassion.

Really? God personally told you this? Or are you so certain of your own personal righteousness that you can sit in judgment of others? You who have had the benefits of education, class, or race. You can't take the time to imagine what a life must be like to see abortion/termination as the viable solution - not the desired one, not the one that will bring a substantive change to their life's circumstances, but the one that let's them meet their basic functions. This flip side of this, which of course receives society's condemnation, is that women receiving public assistance who keep having kids to keep on welfare. Either way, the cycle is never broken - either there's condemnation for abortion which might give them a chance to move one, or they keep having children thereby receiving blame and derision for not changing their circumstances.

I will never know what my life would have been like if I (we) had chosen to terminate. In some ways, I think ours was the easier decision, in others it's probably harder. Either way, though, (and this is why it totally chaps me to hear supposedly Christian people judge on this) how does one know that this challenge/decision/fork-in-the-road wasn't planned by God? That in choosing abortion/termination, a woman is put on a path towards something that only improves her as a human being because of the experience/choice? In the parlance of the faithful, isn't God omnipresent and omnipotent? And doesn't He know the outcome, especially since He gave us free will? And doesn't God know what's in our heart of hearts? And shouldn't abortion/termination deserve our compassion, not our condemnation? And finally, don't we diminish our own blessings/gratitude when we judge others?

Notes/Caveats: I am not advocating in anyway shape or form that women with a prenatal diagnosis of anything (Down Syndrome, birth defects, chromosomal anomalies, etc.) should terminate their pregnancy. I will, however, defend any woman's right to abort/terminate/end her pregnancy through a medically safe procedure.

I am also not looking for a debate about God. I am happy to know people of deep and abiding faith. I also am dismayed to meet people who say they are of faith, yet don't seem to live a life in sync with the teachings that made up some of my childhood. I take umbrage with religion as an institution and the mindless acceptance of religious leaders who espouse hate and a lack of compassion. Perhaps my religious training is lacking, but I don't remember much of the hate language encapsulated in the teachings of the Bible.