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Justice for the Five: The Tales of Death and Disability

A month ago, when the images of five late-term babies aborted in the Washington Surgi-Clinic were published, there was an instant turmoil on social media. Everyone, even pro-lifers, was caught off-guard.

Christopher X, Harriet, Phoenix, Holly, and Ángel were among the 115 aborted children whose bodies were obtained by Lauren Handy and Terrisa Bukovinac. The state of these five children’s remains indicates that they may have been the victims of illegal partial-birth or born-alive abortions.

Following these discoveries, I spent the better part of multiple days online, watching the pro-choice response assume the form of several different strategies. Some picked the angle of shaming Lauren Handy, who took the primary blow of the mainstream media reaction. Some ventured into denying the very validity of the discovery. But some, looking at those pictures, suddenly turned into medical specialists and claimed non-viability or disability for these abortion victims. This article is about them.

You are probably reading this because you are pro-life. You may have defended the right to life of these children regardless of their alleged condition, arguing that it did not make them any less valuable. You also might have said that we do not prevent suffering by killing the sufferer. Or that imagining disability as nothing more than suffering is extremely ableist.

If you are pro-choice, you’ve probably heard these arguments before. But they did not matter much. Why? Because, as a pro-choice person, you set your focus firmly on the pregnant person. You see a dead baby’s body and you don’t see its tragedy. Your mind goes to reasons and the pregnant person’s situation.

The first reason that comes to your mind is some type of disability. You see the shape of Harriet’s head (or what’s left of it) and you insist on anencephaly as the only possible explanation. Or you see Phoenix forever trapped in the sac, and claim non-viability. Looking at Christopher X in the arms of one of two ladies who unearthed this horror, you imagine he died in the womb, as if mothers went to abortion clinics to deliver children who had already passed away.

Why is disability so useful for pro-choice apologetics?

People who are disabled often say they are impaired but dis-abled by others’ notion of what ability is. To disable a human means to take their physical or mental impairment and place it against an ideal, some normative idea of “wellness” and “ability” we are all trained to operate with.

In this particular case, you are virtually disabling the dead babies you are seeing. And I suspect you are doing it in order to feel better about their deaths.

I understand the impulse to persevere in your opinion in the face of these horrors. It’s actually kind of brave to be willing to engage in online debates and try to think something, anything about these concrete humans instead of just splashing in the shallow waters of tangential trolling.

However, I think that to disable a human in order to erase them from your consideration is way more problematic. The fact is, this strategy would not be possible if disability were not deeply rejected and despised by default.

Disabled babies are usually wanted prior to their diagnosis, whether terminal or not. The moment a person finds out about their baby’s condition, they are crushed. They are bound to go through all stages of grief. Abortion preys on them somewhere between denial, anger, and bargaining, offering an alluring option to simply get off that train.

But if a disability or terminal condition can turn a once wanted child into an “it” to be discarded without any tangible reminder of the love that had been there, what can we hope to give to our other loved ones who might face a scary diagnosis in the future? What will we be able to expect from others if we fall seriously ill?

The way we deal with disability determines the true quality of our relations. But the way we deal with death determines the meaning we attach to our lives and to the lives of others. There is more dignity in embracing our ultimate vulnerability than in just cutting it off at some arbitrary point. And there is more compassion in a long, heartbreaking goodbye than in discarding family members because of their conditions.

There’s something in all of us that screams rejection towards ultimate vulnerability. We are constantly coming up with different ways that enable us to give in to this scared and ungiving part of ourselves, dehumanizing ourselves and others: killing for false mercy or self-defeating justice. But resisting this part makes us love truer, heal better, and live bigger.

See these babies as they are. Mourn them as they were.


Disclaimer: The views presented in the Rehumanize Blog do not necessarily represent the views of all members, contributors, or donors. We exist to present a forum for discussion within the Consistent Life Ethic, to promote discourse and present an opportunity for peer review and dialogue.

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