On Birth Defects & Loving Better

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Last week, the Washington Post‘s political blog The Fix addressed Americans’ opinions about abortion and “how Republicans can win the abortion issue.” I’m happily retired from politics and not interested in discussing this political strategy described, but something did give me pause.

The Fix reports that 70 percent of Americans support abortion in the case of a possible birth defect. 70 percent! (Note: The blog post and accompanying chart label this differently all 3 times it is mentioned: “potential,” “likely,” “strong chance of.” To me, the meaning of those words vary and it’s not clear how the question appeared on the actual survey. But I digress.) Let me say this again: 7 out of 10 Americans support killing unborn babies who might have a birth defect. That’s not to mention the specific heartbreaking issue of our country aborting 92 percent of babies diagnosed with Down Syndrome.

As Catholics and Americans, how can we work to shift public opinion here? All people are created in the image and likeness of God, and have an intrinsic dignity and worth. The value of a person is not at all linked to what they accomplish or how they look. How can we help more people know this?

My archbishop here in Denver, Most Rev. Samuel J. Aquila, has written about this, and suggests that a lack of understanding dignity is not the issue at all:

In truth, the disabled are aborted not because their lives have no dignity, or because they will suffer unbearably. They are aborted because we find disability disruptive and disturbing. The vulnerability of the disabled exposes our humanity. The disabled pose the threat of forcing us to change, to be compassionate, and to love.

Jesus Christ was killed for the same reason. Christ, beaten and broken, was crucified because the Gospel is disruptive and disturbing. It exposes our humanity. It challenges us to love. But Pilate forced his crucifiers to gaze upon the man they would kill — to stare into the face of love, and injustice, before they called for his blood. … Can we continue to call abortion “compassion?”

This is not a simple issue, and there are no short answers here. These stats are just a small piece of a plague that infects many aspects of our culture. But where do we start? What can we do today? What little ways or big changes can we pursue?

Perhaps what I’m really asking is: How can we love better?

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