If your social media timeline has been anything like mine over the last couple of weeks, you’ve seen some horror stories going around about what the reversal of Roe will mean for women in difficult situations. One story I saw described a woman being forced to carry a child to term with a rare genetic defect causing it to have seizures every few minutes. The story was meant to illustrate the necessity (apparently) of abortion in at least some “medically necessary” situations. And how could you be so cruel?
First off, the horror stories seem a bit premature. I’m reliably told that New York and California are still offering abortions up to birth for whatever ails you. Sure, you might have to make a drive or take a flight, but the point is that the reversal of Roe did not end abortion in this land or make it impossible to get an abortion. And many large corporations are lining up to fully fund your abortion travel expenses, so I’m thinking abortion will still be largely assessable for those determined to go through with it. In 12-13 states, it is in the process of being made illegal, but that is hardly the end of abortion in America.
But second, and to the point of this post, as long as we are telling our stories, I thought I should tell mine. My daughter was born 14 years ago. She was a twin, and her twin sister died before they were born. When we went in for our 20 week ultrasound, we were told that one of our babies had died and the other did not look healthy. We spent a long day in the hospital talking to fetal specialists, looking at multiple ultrasounds and being told that it did not look good for our remaining living daughter. The maternal fetal specialist doctor told us that whatever had killed the one twin was probably in the process of doing the same to our living daughter. He then asked us if abortion was an option for us. We said, “no.”
He then went into further explanations of our living daughter’s condition: we were told that she had experienced significant In Uterine Growth Retardation (IUGR) which meant that she was measuring several weeks smaller than usual for her gestation age. Again, he emphasized that she was probably in the process of dying just like her twin. We were also told that she had high chances of Downs Syndrome, Cytomegalovirus, and other scary chromosomal and genetic defects and disorders and he asked again, “you mean to tell me that if your daughter is suffering from one of these diseases or disorders and will most likely die or will be born with significant defects, you still wouldn’t consider abortion?” We assured him that we would not.
After he left, a nurse came in with a bunch of paperwork for genetic testing. We started filling it out sort of in a daze over everything happening. When she came back in, I asked her what it was all for, and she repeated the litany of disorders and diseases that the ultrasounds were suggesting our daughter might have. They would run tests on her blood. None of the tests would be conclusive. They would bring back percentages of likelihood of diagnosis. So I asked: If she has any of the diseases or disorders, could they do anything about it? No, the nurse replied. I smiled and said that we wouldn’t be getting any of the tests that could only tell us a percentage of possibility for something we could do nothing about until after birth (except kill our baby). We went home.
We returned a week or two later to see a fetal heart specialist. He performed a special heart ultrasound and we watched our daughter wiggling around on a big screen for about 45 minutes. The heart specialist concluded his analysis by telling us that she had a healthy heart. No need to see him again. Our maternal fetal specialist came back into the room and once more reviewed the many possible and probable diseases and defects our daughter had. He asked us again if we would consider abortion. Again, we insisted that there was no way we would consider abortion. At this point, after we left that appointment, we asked our regular OB/GYN if we could stop seeing a maternal fetal specialist. We didn’t find him particularly encouraging. Our OB/GYN told us we still needed to see a specialist, but he agreed to refer us to a different one.
Upon referral, we had a much different experience. The new maternal fetal specialist was a Christian doctor who never mentioned abortion to us. However, even with the new specialist, the information roller coaster was not over. Even though our daughter now appeared to be growing at a more normal rate, concerns about disease and disorders remained. We continued having ultrasounds almost every week, and after one of them, one technician informed us that she was seeing some significant abnormalities and deformities. Nevertheless, our daughter was born on Easter Sunday 2008 by emergency c-section at 31 weeks crying and breathing on her own. Other than being 2lbs 2oz. and needing a number of weeks to grow and mature in the NICU, she was completely healthy and whole. No diseases. No deformities. No disorders.
The Gift of Life
So that’s another story. It’s a story of God’s grace, but it’s also a story of how little medical doctors sometimes know or understand. If we had not been completely committed to carrying our daughter to term, a kindly looking elderly doctor might have talked us into killing our perfectly healthy daughter. And I hate to know how many other mothers heard similar warnings from that same doctor encouraging them to abort, and how many of them took his advice, fearing the worst. I shudder to think of the horror story at the beginning of this article if it turns out that the woman’s baby has a persistent case of hiccups and she thinks (or has been told by a “specialist”) it’s seizures.
And hasn’t the fear-mongering logic of many progressives over the last couple of years of COVID been something along the lines of: if we can save one life… it will be worth it? Even if you accept the premise (which I do not and more in a minute) that it would be better to kill a severely disabled baby than to bring it to full term, are we so cold hearted to insist that it would be better to kill many healthy babies just in case one of them might be severely disabled? And how many perfectly healthy babies have been aborted because the genetic testing came back indicating a “high probability” of disease or disorder? Is that really how we treat life? It *might* be hard? It *might* include suffering? Or it might not? Better to abort a possibly healthy baby in case it might have some disability?
But of course not all stories turn out like ours. There are many children with diseases and disorders. Some die in the womb, some die just after birth. But this is the difference between a Christian view of human life and a non-Christian view. Christians believe that every human life is made in God’s image. This means until or unless God gives express permission to take the life that bears His image, we are duty bound to receive it as a gift from Him. And we are not in charge of that decision. Human beings are not animals. It is perfectly acceptable to put down an animal, to put it out of its misery. But God is the sovereign Lord of human life because it bears His image. From conception to natural death, God gives life and God takes it back at His pleasure. Who are we to say: that is enough of that gift? Who are we to say that we will not receive the gift of life that proclaims the living God, however disabled or handicapped?
My wife and I have never had to receive a child born with severe defects or disease, but we have walked alongside a number of families who have. And in our experience not a single one of them has regretted the difficult journey they walked. Some of them lost their child before they were born; some spent days or weeks with their child before they died; some have cared for their disabled children into adulthood. In Christ, every single life is a gift, and some of the most challenging ones are the greatest gifts. There’s a section of the cemetery here in Moscow where all the children are buried, and I can walk down a particular section recognizing many names. I’ve said before that at the resurrection there will be a glorious party and reunion there.
One of the markers in that section of the cemetery is my own son Justice who died around 20 weeks from unknown causes. I remember when he was born, he was small of course, but he was a perfectly normal looking baby boy. We still have his little hand and footprints from the hospital, from the day he was stillborn. It was certainly hard to see the ultrasound technician’s worried face as she left the room, as we began to wonder, and then the doctor’s confirmation that there was no heartbeat and then going to the hospital to give birth to a child we would not get to watch grow up. It was a painful and difficult delivery. But it was absolutely worth it. Holding my son in my arms, a strange feeling surged through me, one I wasn’t expecting, a sense of pride. This was my son. God gave him to me for 20 weeks, and then God took him home. And that little man had done something that I still haven’t done; he fought death and won. He had gone to heaven ahead of me. I was proud of him. That was a gift that God gave to me, and I would never trade it away for a little less pain or difficulty.
When my father in-law died of cancer a few years ago, another related lesson was impressed upon me. My father in-law was one of those classic granddads, the kind that takes grandkids fishing, tells you stories about the Civil War, and would take you on car trips to see a national park or some other natural or historic site. But after he got cancer all of that changed, and after a number of rounds of chemotherapy, he was not the same active man he had been. He remained cheerful and courageous through it all, but it just wasn’t the same. And yet, the lesson I will always remember from those days is the certainty that what my kids most needed was to watch their Granddad go through that trial. This was the greatest fishing trip, the best war story, the most scenic trip of all. It was the adventure of watching him face death in faith and win. And so even as he suffered, he was giving to all of us through the life he was given.
I know that for a non-Christian, these stories perhaps change little. And that is because the central crux of the issue is the Cross and resurrection of Jesus. In the Cross, God allowed the most awful thing to happen. He allowed evil to heap on top of His beloved Son. He laid on Him the iniquity of us all. Jesus suffered horrifically for hours, bleeding out, excruciating pain, suffocating, stripped naked before a mocking crowd. But in that horrific suffering God was taking away the sins of His people. By His stripes we are healed. And the point is this: If God has determined to swallow up all death through the suffering of His Son, how much more can we trust Him to give us glimpses of that victory over death in the darkest moments of our lives? If God is good, if He is the God who has determined to destroy death and wipe away every tear (and He is), we can trust Him to tell our stories and every story perfectly. He knows what He is doing. He is not careless. He is not absent. He is with us. And He is the resurrection and the life. Those who sow their tears in the Lord always reap with shouts of joy. So place your trust in Him.