“You should have had an abortion.” These are the words KJ Harmon’s mom, Tasha, heard when an ultrasound technician informed her that her not-yet-born son’s kidney was full of cysts. This is the ultimate expression of the throwaway culture, where the imperfect are supposed to be discarded as worthless. It is part of a long history of dehumanization, bigotry toward those with disabilities, and eugenics-based reasoning by those who often consider themselves enlightened humanitarians.
It is not uncommon for both sides in the abortion debate to demonize the other. And this sometimes contrasts with our experiences of real people we know on the other side of the debate who are torn on the issue and have good intentions, even if we think they draw the wrong conclusions. But sometimes finding dialogue and common ground with sensible friends can cause us to ignore the hardcore ideologues that are among the most powerful people in the abortion industry and in our political parties.
The politics of abortion is not broken in the US simply because of power-hungry politicians who would rather win reelection than find common ground, though too many of these charlatans are in office. A bigger problem is the existence and number of true believers, people who believe that certain children—sick children, those with disabilities, those who will live in deep poverty—should be killed. They may even be animated by a humanitarian impulse (perhaps believing an able-bodied bourgeois existence is the only one worth living). But the results are horrifying. And the recently released Planned Parenthood videos show the remorselessness, callousness, and brutality of these ideologues. We see them casually discuss crushing babies to death and negotiating over how much their tissues are worth, treating these topics like they are identical to the mundane business decisions and negotiations every company makes over a weekday lunch. The cruelty is real; it cannot be wished away simply because we desire dialogue or to find common ground with those who see legal abortion as a necessary evil and wish to see fewer abortions. Too many simply have no desire to condemn this cruelty or denounce the ideology behind it. The silence of pro-choice politicians is telling.
The culture war has damaged the Church. It has blocked progress on delivering assistance to pregnant women and their children. It has failed to deliver concrete protection to unborn lives. Simply trying to ban abortion without a comprehensive approach has been a disaster on every level, one orchestrated by anti-government right-wing ideologues. But the throwaway culture is real. The Catholic faith is not defined by where the Church stands on abortion. But the Catholic commitment to human dignity, human rights, and social justice collapses without a commitment to the value of every single life and a preferential option for the vulnerable. To think that unborn children who have disabilities or diseases should be killed is not to pick and choose from a cafeteria of Catholic teaching; it is a rejection of Catholic moral and social teaching at its most basic level—it is a rejection of its foundation and its core. We first look out for the weak, the poor, the vulnerable, the sick, the disabled—or we reject the way of Christ. And killing innocent people simply because of their vulnerability simply cannot be considered compatible with the Church’s understanding of justice rooted in love.
We do not need a culture war. We need a culture of life. This culture of life will provide a foundation for the type of comprehensive approach to abortion that can protect the lives and dignity of all, rooted in the belief that human dignity is innate not based on the maximization of autonomy or some other bourgeois value. But it must extend beyond politics.
The ultrasound technician said KJ should have been killed. But KJ is alive. He is able to watch his favorite wrestler, John Cena, compete in the WWE. And through ESPN’s ‘My Wish’, he met the wrestling superstar and was treated like a champ for a day by all his heroes in the ring.
KJ’s health is not perfect. But the value of his life is clear: his worth is infinite. We need only look in the eyes of his mother to see this. All the wrestlers he hung out with for a few minutes on his special day can confirm this. And when we celebrate these children through Make-A-Wish programs, we send a powerful message: we value these people. They are unique and irreplaceable. Neither their dignity nor their worth is diminished by an illness or disability—they are each a blessing.
This is the culture of life. It has been 25 years since we passed the Americans with Disabilities Act, a wonderful accomplishment. As we look to build off of this and ensure greater protections for those with disabilities, it is this spirit and culture that will drive us forward. It is our job to live out this culture of life, to be witnesses who reject the throwaway culture in our everyday lives and affirm the worth and dignity of all.