Life + Culture

Four Unthinkable Conversations

Four Unthinkable Conversations

Conversation One

“Mrs. Johnson, your baby looks good. Heartbeat is strong and regular. Measurements of head, femur, and amniotic fluid all are right where they should be at this stage of development. But —”

“What is it, doctor?”

“Well, I’m sorry to say that because the baby’s father and you are both black, your baby will be black as well. We know what that means in this society and the hardship this will mean for you and this child and the surrounding community. As your doctor I must make you aware of all your options, including terminating your pregnancy.”

Conversation Two

“Ms. Smith, your pregnancy is progressing very well. All indicators of fetal health are good, including the size of your baby.”

“I’m so relieved. I’d been worried that things were not going to go as smoothly as they are described in my baby book.”

“Not at all! It’s perfectly normal that some things about your pregnancy wouldn’t be exactly like what is described. Everything is fine . . . except —”

“Doctor?”

“I have to tell you that you’re going to have a little girl. There’s a great deal that can go wrong in the life of a girl, things that will be really hard on her and on you — expensive things, things that can make even the best marriages fall a part. You should think about the kind of life that she, and you, would have. Things won’t be as easy for her as they are for boys. Do you really want that for her? Other women in your situation have considered ending the pregnancy, and it is something I can say has been a good option.”

Conversation Three

“Ms. Vang, your baby is doing really well, and I’m pleased with the state of your health also. Due date still looks good.”

“I’m glad. So we can take that trip?”

“Yes, you should have no problems.”

“We met in Paris as students and then both our careers took off and that’s allowed a lot of travel. We’re pretty excited about going someplace new before the baby comes.”

“Travel is important to you? And your career?”

“Oh, yes. Both are fulfilling in different ways.”

“Ms. Vang, do you realize that a child will, at best, be an intrusion into both those things? At worst, you might not be able to do either as you have before. A child is also expensive, often in ways we cannot predict. Your life will change, and probably not for the better – trips will have to be arranged around this baby; you work will suffer. You should know that you are not obligated to continue this pregnancy. And think of the impact on this child if you aren’t happy. You really should consider what would be best for both of you.”

Without doubt, any American would call these conversations outrageous. They are racist, sexist, pretentious, elitist, and cruel. Medical professionals would never say such things.

But consider this one . . .

Conversation Four

“Mrs. Johnson, you’ll recall that I was concerned about some things I was seeing in your pregnancy. The additional tests have shown that the fetus has a genetic anomaly that will severely impact his ability to learn, and he will have other physical disabilities. I’m sorry to tell you that the medical literature indicates a very low quality of life and no chance for independent living. The medical interventions he’ll need after birth are significant and expensive and will not change his quality of life. I know this news is hard and I respect that you’ll need some time to think about it. But at this stage of your pregnancy, termination should be scheduled soon in the best interests of your health.”

The Nonsense and Hope

Attributes such as ethnicity or gender are socially off limits for such discussion. But it is socially acceptable — many argue ethically necessary — to talk about “options” when disability is discovered in the womb. “Wrongful birth” lawsuits, where the parents declare they would have aborted their child if they had known the child would be born with a disability, have been won with awards in the millions of dollars. Doctors and insurance companies notice such things.

Do we need more evidence that discriminatory attitudes remain against people with disabilities? Shouldn’t killing them before they are born or awarding “damages” when they are “wrongfully” born be enough to convince us?

There are signs of hope. Legislators in Indiana are seeking to join North Dakota in banning abortions based on fetal disability. They are rightly shining a light on the deadly, twisted way many think about unborn children who are not genetically “normal.” Opponents of the law, however, have no problem stating publicly that termination options must be available. One mother who aborted her child with significant, fatal disabilities testified that having that child “would have ruined me and it would have ruined my family.” The fact that she had a healthy boy after her abortion was offered as proof of the wisdom of her decision.

I’m glad she had a healthy son, but I doubt her ability to accurately predict the future. How is the birth of a healthy boy a guarantee against future suffering? We’ll never know the true impact of her first child on her family.

If you believe in the sovereignty of God in all things, aborting children is outrageous. Period. The God who intimately knits babies together (Psalm 139:13), including some who will live with a disability (Exodus 4:11; John 9:3), does so for his glory and for the good of his people. All the promises of God remain true for that child and that family. God is mighty and full of mercy in the gift of every child, and he equips us to love them no matter what.


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