No Matter How Painful the Situation, Ending a Disabled Child’s Life Through Abortion Is Never Right

Today’s blog is from Stephanie Anderson, who is part of our staff at Eternal Perspective Ministries. —Randy Alcorn

The title of The New York Times article grabbed my attention, as it was meant to do: “I Had a Late-Term Abortion. I Am Not a Monster.” Lyndsay Werking-Yip shares her story of expecting a little girl, who was discovered to have severe brain abnormalities through prenatal testing. She and her husband were told their daughter would face seizures and cognitive impairment along with other unknown issues, so they decided to end her life through a late-term abortion.

She writes,

Many imagine this as an impossible decision to make, one that would take hours of deliberation. I will be honest with you. You may not want to hear this, but the decision was obvious to us. Our child would not be given a life of pain and suffering. Instead, we would take her pain on as our own.

I regret that we had to make the choice. I regret that she was so sick, so broken. But I do not regret the decision we made. Within 15 minutes of the diagnosis, we knew what we had to do: We would become baby killers.

…When people ask, “How could you?” I reply that allowing her to live would have been a fate worse than death. Her diagnosis was not fatal, not incompatible with the bare mechanics of a living body. But it was incompatible with a fulfilling life. And that makes all the difference to me. That’s why I call myself “pro-life.”

Ms. Werking-Yip’s story is emotionally compelling. It’s easy for a reader to think, “I haven’t walked in her shoes. How dare I judge her and say she should have made a different choice and faced a lifetime of caring for a disabled child, or of having to watch her child suffer?”

Yes, leveling the terms “monster” or “baby killer” at a post-abortive woman (or man) has no place in a Christ-like and compassionate response. But the problem is that heartrending situations such as these can cloud our judgment and blur the line between right and wrong. Both truth and grace require us to recognize that ending the life of a disabled unborn child through abortion can never be right or compassionate, no matter how seemingly noble the intentions.

My Own Story

This issue is especially personal for me because it was three years ago last month that my son, Isaiah, was born silently. Two months before that, at our 20-week ultrasound scan, we found out he had multiple serious abnormalities, resulting in the prenatal diagnosis of Trisomy 18. What followed were some of the most difficult weeks of my life. Even now the memory of that time takes my breath away.

Because of this I do have some understanding of the emotions Ms. Werking-Yip faced. Honestly, I now grasp how for some people abortion can be alluring as an “out” from the terror of a prenatal diagnosis. The emotions I felt were suffocating, and I would have welcomed a seeming quick end to them. (Never mind that abortion promises an out, but instead delivers a lifetime of other pain and suffering.)

Although most children with Trisomy 18 die before birth, some do survive birth and live for minutes, hours, days, weeks, and very rarely, even years. In those last weeks of my pregnancy, I contemplated what it would mean to care for a severely disabled child and how that would affect our family. And yes, imagining a lifetime of suffering for your own child is painful. This wasn’t theoretical for me, because my older sister was born with a chromosomal abnormality that left her profoundly disabled. I had seen firsthand how difficult it was for my parents over the years, even though I know her life had God-given value.

But because I believe God has exclusive prerogatives over life and death, abortion was never an option for my husband and me (though it was certainly offered to us). We wanted to show love to this child, and we wanted God to write our family’s story, including this difficult chapter. And He did: just as my husband and I were beginning to work on a birth plan for Isaiah, we found out he had peacefully died in my womb.[1] God had taken our child home, and because He did so in His own time and way, I believe that part of our story has brought Him glory in ways I won’t understand until eternity.

A Meaningful Life?

Much of Ms. Werking-Yip’s explanation for why she chose to abort her daughter centers around what she defines as a quality, fulfilling life. She writes,

If you identify as “pro-life,” what does that phrase mean to you? I know that in advocacy circles, it means, essentially, “anti-abortion.” But what does life mean to you — the life that you are “for”? Does it mean breathing on your own? Does it mean having a heartbeat? What are the markers of a life of quality, of purpose, of meaning? If your brain was not functioning following a traumatic car accident, would you want your body artificially sustained indefinitely? What is the threshold of experience for you to want to continue living?

The problem is that the definition of what makes a life “meaningful” and “purposeful” is subjective, varying from person to person. Saying “My child wouldn’t have a fulfilling life, so I’m ending it” is a slippery slope. A society that makes decisions on this basis alone would be a terrible place to live. (This is why abortion is not just a private decision between a woman and her doctor; it is a decision with society-wide implications.) The value of a person’s life (and an unborn child is a person) must be based on something more than another person’s subjective feelings.

Does this mean caring for a disabled child and seeing her suffering wouldn’t have been extremely difficult? No, of course not. But there is often unexpected joy and hope and beauty in difficult situations that we can’t see coming. Human life is always valuable and meaningful, even when it doesn’t fit our ideal definitions.

Randy Alcorn writes in Why ProLife?:

Some argue, “It’s cruel to let a handicapped child be born to a miserable and meaningless life.” But what do the disabled think about their lives? Spina bifida patients were asked whether their handicaps made life meaningless and if they should have been allowed to die after birth. “Their unanimous response was forceful. Of course they wanted to live! In fact, they thought the question was ridiculous.” [2]

…A person’s nature and worth aren’t changed by a handicap. S. E. Smith, in an article in Disability says, “The able-bodied, who control much of society, need to break themselves of the beliefs that life with a disability is tragic, not worth living.” [3]

Neither Ms. Werking-Yip nor the doctors could say exactly what her daughter’s life would have been like. Doctors can be wrong even when a diagnosis seems certain, and in the very least, wrong about how many cognitive and physical abilities a child will have. But had her daughter been as fully disabled as doctors predicted, she was still fearfully and wonderfully made, and just as valuable as a child who is fully “normal.”

Hope for the Hurting

Grief, sorrow, pain, and fear are all natural reactions to a grim prenatal diagnosis. But we dare not allow feelings to displace objective truth. Moms and dads facing prenatal diagnoses like the one Ms. Werking-Yip and her husband faced need support that can help them see past their overwhelming emotions, understand their child’s value, and find hope for the future.

And for those who have already chosen abortion in such a situation and know it is something they need forgiveness for, there is abundant grace through Jesus Christ (see Finding Forgiveness After an Abortion). Many post-abortive women and men have found hope and healing at the foot of the cross.

Ms. Werking-Yip writes,

My child was lovingly cared for until her last heartbeat. She was gently laid to rest after her footprints were stamped in black ink on a rectangle of paper. Those same footprints hang on my bedroom wall along with a locket containing her ashes.

Is this not the picture of maternal feticide you had in mind? I am not a dark shadowy imaginary figure. I am a grieving mother.

My heart hurts for her. I pray this grieving mother will find true healing through Jesus Christ. And I hope that maybe her story will help other moms and dads facing difficult diagnoses choose a different end to their disabled child’s story.

[1] I recognize there are many ethical issues surrounding medical intervention and when to extend life vs. allowing death to happen naturally. Had Isaiah lived through birth, my husband and I would have needed to decide how much to intervene and what procedures to perform or whether to simply provide comfort care for his basic needs should it be clear he wouldn’t survive for long. We were spared having to make these difficult decisions because our child died in utero, but my heart goes out to other families who do have to work through them.

[2] W. Peacock, “Active Voluntary Euthanasia,” Issues in Law and Medicine (1987). Cited in John Willke, Abortion Questions and Answers (Cincinnati, OH: Hayes Publishing, 1988), 212.

[3] S. E. Smith, Devaluing the Disabled Body,” This Ain’t Livin’, August 17, 2009.

Photo by Luma Pimentel on Unsplash

Stephanie Anderson is the communications and graphics specialist at Eternal Perspective Ministries.