This is a difficult post to write.
Information about the court ruling I am talking about can be found here (Click the word ‘here’ that is in bold print) It needs a trigger warning for text talking about ‘elective termination’ up to 40 weeks, specifically due to disability.
The difference with this campaign is its context; it is looking at the institutions that judge disability negatively. It isn’t judging those who have found themselves having to make these painful decisions.
I also need to give a trigger warning to my friends who have had to make those difficult and painful decisions. Please be assured I am not judging you – you are loved and welcome in this space. You are my friend.
If you choose not to read any further, that’s ok, be blessed and please stay in touch.
I may be ‘pro-life’, but as I said on my ministry facebook page and twitter: I do understand the nuances & the pressures felt [around the subject of elective terminations due to disability], so I’m not pointing the finger at those who felt they needed to make this incredibly hard decision. There are too many governments and institutions who only see disability as a tragedy with no possibility of a quality of life or worth – this is the problem. I’m writing about.
We need to change the narrative and perceptions around disability and the way the negative narrative influences how law is made and interpreted in relation to disability – not just at the start of life, but end of life and the middle bit too.
Over a year ago I wrote about the law surrounding disability and the availability of selective termination up to 40 weeks. You can find it on Christian Today here (Click the word ‘here’ to find the article – but do come back to finish reading this post!) Due to the word count it was difficult to give the nuance and grace I wanted to, but it gives you an idea of my heart.
If like me you are cross beyond words about the law and the views of many (but not all) in the medical profession when talking about disability, please don’t take it out on those who have made difficult and heart breaking decisions. Lay that anger at the feet of the doctors and other professionals who present a negative view of disability and pressurise those having a baby to terminate their pregnancy – right up until labour begins. Aim that anger at the lawmakers who speak of having a club foot as incompatible with a good quality of life (Usually because there is a very, very small chance of it being part of another syndrome that causes a learning disability). This is then often translated by doctors as having something like a cleft lip also being incompatible with a good quality of life. Heidi, in the court case, had to leave the court because the language used in regard to Down syndrome and learning disability was so upsetting. I saw some of it and it was appalling!
All of this language and the view of disability being a tragedy is the basis of saying that selective termination for disability can be up to 40 weeks, whereas for any other baby it is 24 weeks. Of course, there is more nuance than that – such as giving parents time to make decisions and the occasional lateness of an in-utero diagnosis. But post diagnosis parents are battered with negativity and accusing words if they consider not terminating a pregnancy.
I’m cross that some national papers are reporting the story of the court case, that centres more around Down Syndrome and learning difficulties, as “Down Syndrome woman fails in high court battle…..” Heidi has a name, she hasn’t failed at anything (The judges ruled against the plea and Heidi has achieved a lot!) Plus, the case was brought jointly with the mum of a little boy who has Down Syndrome.
This case has now been picked up by many Christians – not as many as the general ‘elective abortion for disability’ debate, but quite a few. The ‘not as many’ part gives me some worries, but I’m not writing about that.
Many in the Christian world will often overlook the fact that weakness is key factor in our faith. It is the way of God to take our weaknesses and use them. To quote the song ‘Cornerstone’: “Weak made strong in the Saviour’s love”.
The way of the world says weakness is bad, God says it is good.
The world says your worth is in living a ‘productive life’, God says ‘you are worthy because of Jesus’.
The medical profession measures your worth on your ‘quality of life’, a subjective thing at the best of times. God says rest in me – that’s enough quality of life.
Quality of life seems to be a big part of the legal engine surrounding disability, the doctors take that thinking too but also add the quality of life of parents in caring for a child. Those medics see these children as nothing but a burden to their parents and society.
This leads to huge pressures put on parents with no view of the positives and joys of parenting a child with additional needs and disabilities. It is ableism in the extreme – you are not worthy of life if you ‘make life hard’ for other people.
May be we need to present this to our MPs – not battering them with negativity but rather spotlighting the positives. Suggest we need a change of narrative and language within the legal and medical professions. Suggest that we we need to campaign for better support for parents expecting a child with disabilities that gives a more positive view, that introduces them to support groups run by parents who have children with that particular disability. In short, to give a much fuller picture than the one sided negative view that is always followed by the offer to terminate the pregnancy and continues to be offered as the only solution all the way through. Too many parents are offered termination at the point they go into labour – just at the point where they are excited to look into the eyes of their child for the first time.
If as a church you campaign against ‘elective abortion’, you can’t just stop there. You also need to be part of the solution.
You can’t say disabled children matter and then keep turning them away from your church because it’s inconvenient having them.
I’m going to be inconceivably rude now…… if you campaign against this high court ruling, you are taking on the responsibility to care, accept and support these families as a faith community. God values the weak, so suck it up and get on with doing what God mandates through the Bible and stop turning them away. I am sick and tired of hearing from families who have been turned away and rejected by churches. I don’t want to see it happening any more.
Children born with a disability are made in God’s image. Let that permeate not just your theology, but your church policies too.
Change the language from negative to positive around disability.
Change the negative perception of disability into positive welcome and dignity.
We the Church cannot have it both ways. If you’re going to campaign – get practical, give support and put your arms around these families.
And if those children would struggle to access church – bring church to them.
Whatever you do – do NOT abandon them.
I’m going to give Heidi the last words:
Her last post on Facebook says “When Wilberforce wanted to change the law on slavery, he didn’t give up, even when events didn’t always go his way. And when the going got tough he kept going and I’m going to do the same, because I want to succeed”
NOTE: I have friends on all sides of this and similar debates. Please be kind and respectful of that in any comments.