I didn’t want you. I wish I had killed you before you were born.
That’s not what is written in this article, but that is what I hear. I read this article today, a story about a couple who terminated their pregnancy at 28 weeks – because their child had a slight physical deformity.
Frank and Cindy had a scan, and the scan confirmed their fears: their child was suffering from a deformity, one that would cripple its left hand. The hospital’s board of ethics approved the termination on the basis that the foetus had a disability.
A crippled left hand. I read the article, sitting in my wheelchair, and I thought – if that pregnancy was terminated because of a physical difference, what hope would there have been for me?
There’s a lot to consider when talking about late term termination of pregnancies. 28 weeks is a viable pregnancy – strangely, the foetus was at more risk inside the uterus than out, because it had a disability. Although there are no abortion statistics collected in most states of Australia, statistics show that over 90% of foetuses who test positive for Down syndrome are aborted. And 28 weeks is not an unusually lengthy late termination date – in 2000, a woman requesting pregnancy termination was referred at 31 weeks gestation. The termination was granted on the basis that the woman was suicidal, and the child had been diagnosed with skeletal dysplasia, or dwarfism – it would be shorter than other people.
Thirty one weeks – I had to count that up on my fingers. Almost eight months, the time when my own children were rolling impatiently and kicking like footballers and wedging their tiny feet under my ribcage. I could hardly imagine having a scan and finding out that they were different from other babies – but I could not imagine at all making the decision to end their lives before they had begun. Perhaps if they were doomed to immediate and interminable suffering and a lifespan of hours, but not on the basis of eugenics, never that.
The University of Melbourne's Lachlan de Crespigny is an advocate for late term abortions, and it turns out that he was one of the treating doctors in the termination of the pregnancy above, of the 31 week old foetus.
"Women have the same rights as the rest of the population in deciding what to do with their bodies, so do you see them as a pregnant woman, someone who doesn't have that right to decide and must carry that foetus - that it is the role of the Catholic Church or parliament to decide for her?" he says.
Women have the same rights as the rest of the population – but who cares about the rights of the disabled foetus? Who cares that a child with disability will not even be given the right to exist, on the basis of the parents’ fear about disability and society’s inability to give us the respect and value that is our right?
The Liberal Party and the Christian Democrats proposed a controversial law in NSW in 2013, the so called ‘Zoe’s Law’. The law was designed to enact foetal personhood, but was defeated after an outcry from women’s rights groups. The law was designed to punish people who assault pregnant women, when that assault results in miscarriage – but concerns were raised that foetuses should not be granted legal personhood in their own rights until they achieve an independent existence outside the womb.
That delicate balance between reproductive rights and disability rights. As a woman who considers herself pro-choice, I am torn by the idea that women should select babies on the basis of their idea of perfection.
Five days ago, a Sydney mother who drowned her six month old baby in the bath was found guilty of murder – the had become obsessed with the idea that her daughter was suffering from dwarfism or some other genetic abnormality and had begun to view the child as "an imposition”. She told a friend that if the baby was found to be "abnormal" she would take her and ‘jump off a cliff’ or ‘throw her in the bin’ and told a family member it was ‘better to deal with a terminal illness than a lifetime with a dwarf’.
I don’t want you. You are better off dead. If there had been a test for muscular dystrophy before I was born, I might not have been here. You are not perfect, you are not worthy…even of life.
I cannot help but think that if Cindy, or the mother who drowned her child, had met an actual, real live person with a disability, they might have changed their minds. If they’d met a young man or little girl with a limb difference and watched their delight as they showed their school friends how they could catch a ball or do up a shoelace one handed – if they understood that their difference was the least important thing about them. If they’d met people from communities of short statured people and understood that they are ordinary people who sometimes need a hand to get something off the top shelf at the supermarkets. If they’d known – or if they had been told, or shown – that a good life is not just possible, but probable.
Cindy says that she felt guilty about giving birth to a child with a disability and felt that she must be to blame for the condition.
"I grew up with many people who were disabled, and… there was discrimination," she said. "I didn't want my child to be discriminated against. The problem is... obvious because it is the fingers, and I think the child would have a very hard life."
Cindy didn’t want her child to suffer, and so she killed it. The ultimate discrimination, enacted.
I don’t want you, you are less than I am. Less than we are. You’re better off dead.
Richard Dawkins says that babies with Down syndrome should be ‘aborted, try it again…it is immoral to bring it into the world.’ Anne Furedi, a leading abortion advocate, argued that 'to deny this woman's choice is to condemn her to carry to term and give birth to a child that she may dread and wish dead.' We should not be dreaded, as though we were monsters – we deserve to take our place in society as equal citizens before the law and in society.
If you deliver a stillborn baby after 20 weeks gestation, you must register it as a birth, name the child, bury it or cremate it. I wonder if this is the case for disabled foetuses whose lives have been cut short before they began - and what kind of indictment it is on our so called 'civilised' society that we allow this to happen.
“Although eugenics flourished in Nazi Germany, the ideal of a blond-haired, blue-eyed master race wasn’t Adolf Hitler’s. It may surprise many to know that, in Mein Kampf, Hitler credited America with helping formulate his ideas on eugenics, and he admitted he’d studied the laws of US states to familiarize himself with selective reproduction and other eugenics issues.”
― James Morcan, The Orphan Conspiracies: 29 Conspiracy Theories from The Orphan Trilogy