Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Disabled babies, moms, and men: can we please love them all?

By Mary C. Tillotson

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard about the baby with Down Syndrome who, it looks like, will not be aborted after all because some 900 families offered to adopt, thanks to Facebook and Fr. Vander Woude. If you haven’t heard, I think the Arlington Catholic Herald, my diocese’s paper, had one of the better stories.

I feel a particular connection to this story because my husband and I got one of the original emails; we’ve met Fr. Vander Woude and a friend of ours knows him well. I sent Father an email saying we might be interested but hadn’t had time to talk yet; by the time we were able to talk, we already heard about the enormously huge response and we weren’t needed. So it was exciting to watch the story go viral.

I was saddened, but not surprised, to see that Jezebel hadpicked up the story and treated it with a cynical, sarcastic tone. The article isn’t exactly chock-full of honest and fair reporting. I don’t understand the need to jump to inaccurate or unsupported conclusions:
  • The woman hadn’t contacted the adoption agency until Fr. Vander Woude suggested it. (Not true, according to the Herald, or the email that went out.)
  • Suggesting an alternative is the same as pressure; it couldn’t have been done in a friendly, generous way. (Not true. This sort of thing happens all the time.)
  • The woman was “coerced into carrying to term.” (How, exactly? Was she locked up in the rectory until the baby was born?)
  • People who are against abortion only care about “fetuses,” or unborn children, nothing else. (Not true.)
  • People with Down Syndrome lead terrible lives. (Not true.)
  • This baby will likely be mistreated, and so lead a terrible life. (Unsupported, and unlikely given that 900 families clearly wanted this kid.)

Let’s back up for a second. If Fr. Vander Woude was starting from the assumption that the thing inside this woman’s womb that had tested positive for Down Syndrome was not actually a person, his actions are ridiculous. That’s not where he was starting. Catholics – and the vast majority of pro-lifers – are against abortion not because we hate women (we don’t). We’re against abortion because you just don’t kill innocent people, and personhood starts before birth. So if you start out with the assumption that this kid is a person (the woman was just shy of six months pregnant; here’s WebMD’s description of what was inside her womb), and if you find out this person is about to be killed (here's Planned Parenthood's description of the abortion process) unless you find an adoptive family, it makes perfect sense to look for an adoptive family. If you believe a child is about to die, you can’t just not do anything about it without a heart of stone.

A friend of mine who knows Fr. Vander Woude well told me it’s absolutely and completely out of character for him to pressure anyone. I’ve met him, and I believe her. Before we make the woman into a poster victim for a cause, let’s zoom out and look at the whole situation. It wasn’t just a young woman; it was a young couple. Maybe the man was pressuring the woman for an abortion and she didn’t want to, so she was hoping for an adoption and was grateful for Fr.’s help. Maybe both the parents wanted to have the child adopted but wouldn’t do it if they couldn’t find the right family first. Maybe the woman did want an abortion, but was looking into adoption at someone else’s suggestion. Maybe the man or woman in the couple was childhood best friends with Fr., or maybe they are friends-of-a-friend. Or maybe a whole host of other things. Maybe someone was being a jerk. Maybe no one was being a jerk; they were all just trying to make the best of a difficult situation. We don’t know. We don’t have enough information to judge, and it’s not our place to do so.

I take issue with the idea that men (especially pro-life Catholic priests?) are basically no good. It is true that plenty of men are controlling and manipulative, that some men try to pressure or coerce women into things they don’t want to do. But it is not fair to automatically assume this of men. Not all men are like this. Most of the men I know aren’t like this. I married a man who isn’t like this; so did my mom and my sisters-in-law and many of my friends.

If we really need to turn men into straw men and tear them down, we’re buying into the (false) idea that men really are superior and all we can do is mope about it and resent everything. If we honestly believe that men and women really are equal in worth and dignity, we won’t feel threatened when a man speaks with kindness or offers to help.

A version of this appeared on Ignitum Today.

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