Skip to content
Published: September 18, 2012 1:11 pm to Analysis

Abortion best choice, child with a disability “not a blessing” according to Reality Check (part 1)

If I somehow (metaphysics be damned!) had a choice to be born in a body that would slowly disintegrate on me, like that of Stephen Hawking, or not to be born at all, I’d pick the latter.

These words, so cautiously crafted by writer Sierra, include the very word that both builds and destroys her main point: choice. Throughout her post, “Disability, Prenatal Testing and the Case for a Moral, Compassionate Abortion,” Sierra argues continuously that while she supports people with disabilities, she feels that abortion can be and often is the best “choice” when an unborn human is diagnosed with a genetic condition or disability. However, the reasons why she believes this are empty.

The Chooser

According to Sierra, if Hawking were “hanging out in the metaphysical waiting room before descending to earth, and he told me he didn’t want to be born into all that suffering, it would be unfathomably selfish of me to demand that he endure what he has endured just so that I (and other healthful people) could benefit from his mind.”

While this statement seems on the surface to be one of compassion, it fails to make Sierra’s point. In reality, if Hawking had been aborted, it wouldn’t have been his choice; it would have been his mother’s, his father’s, or a doctor’s decision. And none of them would have taken Hawking’s opinion or potential abilities into account. All they would have seen were the unforeseeable struggles and sufferings, as well as their own natural fear of the unknown overshadowing the amazing life that was and is only Hawking’s to live in the first place. The choice to abort the person with a disability never belongs to that person. It is always under the control of someone else.

In addition, Sierra lumps herself in with “other healthful people,” claiming that no one who is healthy has any right to tell a person who has a disability that his or her life is worth living. However, it is the “healthful” people who have a responsibility to help ensure that everyone, especial those unable to speak for themselves, is treated as an equal. And being treated as an equal starts with being allowed to be born in the first place.

Deciding Which Disability is Too Hard to Live With

Sierra focuses a great deal on Down syndrome, which is natural when discussing abortion because statistics show that about 9 out of 10 humans with Down syndrome die through abortion. Yet it turns out that Sierra thinks relatively highly of those with Down syndrome in comparison to what she thinks about those with cystic fibrosis. She writes:

[…] when did we go from talking about the relative independence of some Downs individuals to the horrible suffering inflicted by cystic fibrosis? Would you utter a sentence like this?: I hate the thought that there will be fewer people with cystic fibrosis in the world as a result of advances in prenatal testing. Would you tell parents how ‘rewarding’ it is to raise a child with cystic fibrosis?

Yes and yes. I am the parent of a child with cystic fibrosis. First, I would hate that there be less people with CF as the result of prenatal testing. That would mean we are killing them, not curing them. Second, although I work hard to raise money for a cure, I would not go back and erase CF from my child’s life, because she would not be who she is without it. She would be physically, emotionally, and mentally a completely different person. And the clarity and empathy that have come along with her diagnosis have changed me for the rest of my life, as they have changed her, her sister, her father, and her friends and extended family. Ronnie Sharpe, an adult with CF who runs a blog about his life and CF at RunSickBoyRun.com and is the creator of Cystic Life, an online community for people with CF, agrees. He says:

Sierra talks of cystic fibrosis as if she’s lived it, or frankly, ever been around it in any extent. Before anyone speaks on a disease that I was, yes, blessed with, please do more than just a Google search.  I’ve had the pleasure of knowing literally thousands of people with cystic fibrosis. I’ve heard the phrase ‘I wish I had never been born at all’ exactly two times.

Twice. Yet Kaiser Permanente released statistics revealing that 95% of their Northern California patients whose unborn children had received a diagnosis of CF aborted those children. Nine out of 10 children with CF, stripped of any choice as to whether or not they wanted to live.

A friend of mine who lost her daughter to CF sixteen years ago recently told me a heart-touching story. Her daughter had desperately wanted to become a mother and was elated upon discovering that she was pregnant. Her mother asked her, “What if they baby has CF?”  Her response was simple: “I don’t care if the baby has CF. What about my life has been so horrible?”  Most people, if given the chance, would rather live with suffering than not live at all.

Fellow CF mom Samantha believes that we all may wish for good health but that life sometimes has other plans. She says:

I see and understand that these kids have a hard time and some may wish they were never born, but they were because we as parents love them from the first time we feel them move inside us. So it might be selfish for us to bring a sick child into this world, but oh well. There’s some things DNA tests can’t test for, like if your child is going to grow up to be a killer, a rapist, or a drug dealer.

Comparing Disability to Economic Status

The fact is, Sierra isn’t disabled (or at least doesn’t tell us she is) and never once claims to know anyone who is. She doesn’t do daily life-sustaining treatments, she isn’t discriminated against for the number of chromosomes she has, and she doesn’t have to worry about whether or not the building she’s entering will have doorways wide enough for a wheelchair. The only way she seems to even attempt to relate to people with disabilities is to mention that she was once poor. As a person who has lived his entire life with a chronic health condition, Sharpe says:

Sierra seems to think she’s been somehow enabled to speak for the struggles of someone that she terms ‘disabled’ because of her experience of being poor. I find that incredibly offensive and misguided. I’ve been living 32 years, fully-abled, and have a wife, a daughter, friends, job, house and blessed life to show for it.

Being poor is a struggle, yes. However, it, unlike cystic fibrosis or Down syndrome, is something you can escape. It doesn’t mean daily treatments and frequent trips to the hospital. It is in no way the same as have a genetic condition or a disability of any kind.

Sierra goes on to make additional arguments in favor of aborting children with disabilities, which are discussed in Part 2.

About Nancy Flanders

Nancy is a work at home mom who writes about parenting, special needs children, and the right to life. She is the lucky mother of three spirited little girls, one who has cystic fibrosis, and she spends any free moment she can find fundraising for a cure for CF. You can read her personal blog at www.ChronicAdmissions.com.
View all posts by Nancy Flanders

  • Detroiter327

    “There is no heaven or afterlife… that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark” – Stephen Hawking
    “There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority, and science, which is based on observation and reasons. Science will win because it works” – Stephen Hawking
    “We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special.” – Stephen Hawking

    • Legomyeggo

      Cool story, bro/sis.

    • http://www.facebook.com/beverly.harlton Beverly Harlton

      Your point? Just because Hawking doesn’t believe in God or an afterlife, does that mean we never should have let him live? Does that mean that it’s ok to murder a child in utero because s/he has a disability? Stephen Hawking may not agree with our spiritual or religious views, but we will still fight for his right and the rights of those like him to exist.

      • Detroiter327

        Despite your haphazard barrage of talking points I have never mentioned anything of the sort. I am not arguing either for against. My issue here (with both the original article and Mrs. Flanders commentary) is exploiting someones disability to prove a political/religious point without their permission. Mr. Hawking has said before he enjoys his the fact that he is living, but he would obviously disagree with the odd predestination argument Mrs. Flanders is dancing around. Most importantly, no one should not be used as mascot for abortion (either for or against) when they have never made one direct statement on the issue. Its even odder someone would try to co opt the life of an atheist to defend their religious beliefs. I think both the original author and Mrs. Flanders are being distasteful in referencing him.

        • Dolce

          First off, you don’t know that her opinion on abortion has anything to do with her religious beliefs. Most pro-life people are pro-life, not because their religion tells them to be, but because they believe in equality and equal right to life, which is NOT just a religious talking point, but also a secular/democratic one. In fact, from what I have read, there seems to be little difference between abortion rates in the secular vs. religious populations, so the religious card is getting seriously old.

          Secondly, Stephen Hawking is an amazing individual, and it is extremely offensive to use his life as an example of why people should be killed and discriminated against in-utero, and the reason isn’t that he has been used as a political talking point. He’s famous, he’s a brilliant scientist, and he has a very obvious disability, so I’m sure he’s quite used to that – it comes with the territory when you are a household name. The reason, actually, has to do with his life’s work, which he divides into three parts: (1) To advance the science of physics, (2) To make physics more accessible to a general audience, and (3) To show people that a disability does not stop you from living a full and joyful life / to advocate for and inspire those with disabilities. So her article with Stephen Hawking as an example of a life that is too difficult to live, flies in the face of a significant portion of Hawking’s work. THAT is the offensive part, since his own life and goals have fly in complete opposition of everything that Sierra has written.

          • Detroiter327

            1) I agree with you about Stephen Hawking and the original article. I am not disagreeing with you on that point at all. But Mrs. Flanders did not simply dispute the original claim. She twisted it and manipulated it, and tried to use someone to prove her own point. This makes her no better than the author of the original article. Using someones disability to prove your point (I dont care what that point is) is disrespectful and distasteful when they have not consented to it. Simply google-ing “Stephen Hawking abortion” will show a myriad of other instances of Pro lifers using his disability to prove their point. Before you make someone an example of your cause you might, oh I dont know, ask how they feel about it.
            2) Women who are affiliated with a religion are actually more likely to have an abortion. Anyways, a quarter of people polled say that religion is the main influence on their opinion of abortion. Most pro life groups receive funding from or are affiliated with religious organizations. Hell! Look at the website your on. Lila Rose continuously brings up the large role that religion and God play in the pro life community. There is also a link between someones religion and if they feel abortion should be legal, especially with evangelicals. If you want to ignore the large elephant in the room and gloss this over as a human rights campaign, go ahead. Just know that most people (even Republicans) outside the movement dont see it that way. If you really are sick of people bringing it up, I suggest you start within the movement and attempt to change it.

          • Dolce

            #1) There is a big difference between pointing to someone with a severe
            disability and saying “I bet if he could have decided to be born or not
            he would have decided not to be” vs. responding to them by saying “See?
            He is not living a horrible life. He has found meaning and love and
            happiness in spite of his disability.” If you would re-read the
            article, you will notice that the author never claims to know what
            Hawking’s opinions on abortion are. In fact, she is simply responding to
            Sierra’s judgment of Hawking’s life – and based on Hawking’s life’s work, I think you are being unfair in your assessment here. Nancy simply said that aborting
            him would not have taken into account his future, his abilities, his
            opinion on his disability, or his potential; the decision to not be born
            would not have been Hawking’s decision. These are all true statements,
            and have less to do with Stephen Hawking himself than they have to do
            with the nature of aborting someone simply because they are disabled in
            some way – which is what the original article that Nancy is responding to is about. I hardly see this as “twisting and manipulating”. Now, I am not able to comment on the way other pro-lifers have
            used Hawking’s example to further their agenda, but since we are
            discussing the article at hand I do not see how that is relevant.

            To #2) Most religious people also believe in feeding the hungry and educating the poor, and providing healthcare to everyone, and are supported in their work by religious organizations. Many religious people used religious talking points to support the abolition of slavery, and were supported by religious organizations when doing so. Does that mean that their opinions are invalid, or that people who are atheists or agnostics cannot share their opinions on the importance of freedom and service to others? Does that mean that the ONLY reason that these people believe as they do is that they are religious?

            I think the answer to both questions is “no”. Perhaps you could deal with pro-lifers’ actual arguments and beliefs regarding abortion itself, instead of simply characterizing them and their worldview as “religious”. Then you could also turn to pro-life organizations (and there are many) who focus on JUST secular arguments against abortion. A pro-life worldview does not philosophically rest on the existence of a God. In fact, one can also be pro-choice and believe in a God while having an internally consistent set of beliefs. Drawing lines around people, claiming that the pro-life worldview is just religious, and implying that atheists and Christians can find no common ground (as you did in saying that it is strange that a pro-life site would “co-opt the life of an atheist”), is quite wrong. Never mind that Sierra is indeed the one who brought up Stephen Hawking’s life in the first place.

          • Detroiter327

            I answered and rebutted everything in my original comments. If you think I have not, then you should read them again. Despite you trying to make it seem so, I never once mentioned that someones view is invalid because it comes from a religious belief. I have never said that all pro life beliefs directly spring from religion, though it has documented that this is the main factor influencing 25% of pro lifers.Instead I have said, several times, that there is a strong documented link between someones religious views and their view on abortion. With the exception of gay marriage and prayer in school, I cannot think of any other issues where someones stance can be predicted so easily by their religious devotion and how regularly they attend church.61% of people who think abortion should be illegal attend church once a week. You can attempt to relate pro life outreach to poverty outreach, but we both know that does not hold water. Someones view on poverty is likely to remain the same, despite how often they attend church. That’s just for starters.

            You seem quite defensive that many people view this as a religious issue. Its interesting, especially since the fight against what the movement deems “abortifacient” birth control is being framed in a context of religious freedom. Your own side is not classifying it (legally) as a human rights issue, not an issue of service to others, its being classified as an offense against ones religious freedom. Most politicians and media outlets define this as a religious issue, mainly because many on your own side classify it as one. The internet is rife with pro life websites explaining why religion needs to be apart of the debate. Im glad that you view the two issues as separate. But many, even on your own side, see them intrinsically linked.

          • Detroiter327
          • http://twitter.com/CalFreiburger Calvin Freiburger

            That’s right. The shedding of innocent blood is about as non-negotiable as theology can get.

        • Guest

          Mrs. Flanders was repling to the article she did not use him as an example she used him because the article did.

    • http://www.facebook.com/beverly.harlton Beverly Harlton

      “There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on
      authority, and science, which is based on observation and reasons.
      Science will win because it works” – Stephen Hawking

      This is why we know abortion is wrong. Pick up even the most basic biology text, and you can see for yourself that human life begins at conception. The pro-choice faction knows this, and their argument has been reduced to empty rhetoric about “forced birth.” Pay attention to arguments from both sides, and take note of which one focuses the most on scientific fact.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-Sullivan/645709619 Mike Sullivan

    Sierra uses a lot of excessive words to basically regurgitate Binding and Hoches’s “Aurthorisation for the destruction of life unworthy of life”. She has nothing new to add to the classic eugenic theory of Binding, Hoche, Sanger and co. It is all quite anti human and best ignored for the blatant eugenics that it is.

  • C

    my partner had cystic fibrosis and was so glad to be alive. he was happy and content even though he had a huge burden to carry as he had a great attitude and knowing him was the best thing ever in my life. He helped me SO much. he often spoke of how he was SO glad his mother did not abort him. We are not just bodies, there is more to the picture than meets the eye. We are all unique and every person, disabled or not, has so much to offer to this world. It is not so black and white and It is not just physically ill people that suffer. there are many many people with mental illnesses too. Everybody suffers in some way or other. Some disabled people are the most beautiful people and intelligent I have met. beautiful souls in difficult bodies that challenge them and they deserve our support and love. People are so blessed yet often fail to realise it. Somebody once said to me that our perfection lies in recognising our imperfection and I think that is a beautiful thing to say.

  • Dolce

    The other thing that annoys me about Sierra’s article, besides her opinion of Hawking’s life, is the implication that raising children is only rewarding if those children are genetically and physically healthy. Um, just no.

  • Tricia

    This author should’ve first conducted a survey among at least 100 or so adults who have been born with a disability. He should’ve asked them if they would have rather been aborted at birth than be allowed to live.
    He was not born with a disability. It’s easy for him to say “I’d rather have been aborted.” Why not ask an actual person with a disability instead of pretending to know what it’s like to have one?
    Very pompous of the author to presume that those with disabilities would rather be dead. Who is he to decide?

  • CMH

    If this is true than the following also stand as true: Any life deemed to include suffering of any sort should also be extinguished out of “compassion” rather than devising a plan of action/treatment for aforementioned suffering. This list could include being poor, having cancer, asthma, depression, less-than-stellar-IQ, boring job, divorce, etc. By this reasoning we should start killing people in large numbers to rescue them from the condition of a less than perfect life. Ignorant.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1199576328 Caitlin Ann

    I have type 1 diabetes and while it’s not always easy to live with a chronic condition, I would much rather be living with diabetes than dead.

  • Pingback: Abortion Best Choice, Child with a Disability “Not a Blessing” According to Reality Check (Part 1) | Special Needs Parenting & Blogging | Scoop.it

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=745687064 Finton Wade

    Eugenics is evil! That woman would want all handicaped people to be killed! This is pure evil!

  • KatieCat

    As a person with a disability, it saddens me to think that people with Sierra’s views believe that people with disabilities have nothing to contribute to this world. When I was 12, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism. I struggled a great deal with being bullied when I was a child. However, when I was in high school, I started to advocate for my disability and others with disabilities. I believe that God gave me autism so I can be a voice for people with disabilities who are unable to stand up for themselves. If someone asked me if I wanted to go back in time and not have autism or if I want to “cure” my autism, I would say no. Having a disability has given me so many amazing opportunities to meet people I would never have known with having it. Never underestimate the power a person has to change the world. You never know who they could become.