I come from a family of doctors. Even the married-in ones are doctors. Every one of them had to go through a rotation of delivering babies at some point during their training. Every one of them decided not to stay in a field in which they would have to deliver or treat babies and children. My father originally wanted to be a neurosurgeon for children, but his heart couldn't handle the constant grief. My sister worked on a high-risk delivery unit in medical school. She came home in tears almost every day.
Those of us that work outside the medical field simply cannot imagine the kind of things that can go wrong during a pregnancy. All that tremendous promise and excitement is so often drowned by tragedy of no one's making but a few misfired genes. The emotional toll of learning that your baby will never grow up to be the child you imagined can be devastating.
My uncle, Indiana State Senator Travis Holdman, has sponsored a bill that would make it a felony to abort a fetus because of fetal abnormalities. It’s aimed at “saving” Down syndrome-afflicted patients, but makes no special qualifications for what determines a “fetal abnormality”—so a family might know that their child has no brain but will be forced to be carried to term. In the best case scenario, you might end up with a child with Down Syndrome in a loving home with all the resources the family needs to care for him or her, as the bill intends on its face. The worst-case scenario is you end up with a severely disabled child who is given up by parents who could not get an abortion but who also cannot care for the child, so the child becomes a ward of the state and all care is paid for by tax dollars. Well, no, the worst case scenario is that women start dying again from complications caused by illegal abortions from unregulated abortion providers when the state is threatening to make them criminals for making the best decision for themselves and their families. But what’s a few more dead women, right?
Another thing that I learned from my doctor family is that sometimes, developmentally abnormal fetuses “spontaneously self-abort,” which is what doctors call a miscarriage. Under Holdman’s proposal, some women will have to carry babies to term that will not live much longer past delivery, or up until the die in utero. For some women, that might mean a miscarriage in the first 4 months. Other women will have to deliver full-term dead babies. Some women will have to go through the trauma of delivering a baby that they’ll get to meet for a few minutes until it breathes its last, as doctors predicted it would. They’ll be forced to go broke to pay for their child’s care (because you know a Republican house and senate aren’t going to be generous for special needs childcare funds). Thousands of children will endure the special lifelong hell and damage of being raised by parents who cannot properly care for them and resent them for straining the family because the party needs some political capital.
If this is Christian compassion, I don’t mind being called the “godless” family black sheep anymore. If this is “good conservative family values,” then I don’t mind being the “liberal on the edge" anymore (I’m a moderate libertarian, if you were wondering).
It’s a lot easier to make judgements about what life is or isn’t like when you haven’t had to face the realities of it. It’s romantic to think that your love for your child or spouse would pull you through even the most difficult of caregiving scenarios, but it’s a different reality when you’re the one getting a second mortgage to pay for the next 5 years of therapy, medication or nursing care. The difference between “I would happily change your adult diaper” and “I just changed your adult diaper” is about 4 square feet of shit-filled cotton flocking—a big difference, in other words—every day for the rest of your life.
We think this stuff because we’ve been taught to believe that sacrifice is a part of love—and it definitely is a major part—and that honestly looking at a problem that is too big for you to handle and maintain your responsibilities is “selfish.” But, I can’t ever read a bill that would make it a felony to abort a child based on disabilities as anything other than pre-punishing women for their supposed “selfishness.”
At the end of the day, a developmentally disabled child takes up worlds’ more resources than a child born healthy. And what if it’s not a woman’s first child? What if her family’s resources were already stretched pretty thin, and a developmentally disabled child would mean bankruptcy and too much missed work for special appointments. Holdman wants to force women to take on a burden of motherhood far beyond the “standard-issue” variety peddled by other Republicans.
To abort a developmentally disabled fetus is not an act of selfishness or self-preservation; it doesn’t mean that you’re avoiding having to sacrifice. It means you mourn the loss of a child without the additional trauma of having to carry a baby to term. It's an act of grief minimization — the 8-inch, jagged escape hole in a prison of pain. Travis Holdman wants to punish a certain kind of woman—the same “kind” of woman that the party at large wants to punish: the one who takes charge of her and her family’s future. At the end of the day, Republicans see women as incubators first and people second, and the more we let people outside the medical field legislate medicine, the less we are actually caring for Hoosiers. Forcing a family to carry a fetus to term that might die in utero or shortly after birth goes beyond overreaching the law and falls squarely in the “pure cruelty” legislative agenda.
These are the people who put “Smile, your mother didn’t abort you” stickers on their cars because obviously, their mothers’ world and the world at large would obviously have been lacking without them. It's motivated by the same sex-shaming, anti-woman ideas that have been the rocket fuel powering Republican's increasingly frequent trips to Planet Crazy. The fact is we are all drops in the bucket, and the only thing the world needs is kids whose parents loved, wanted, and had the resources to care for them, and to stop punishing women who cannot, in good faith, be the parent that every child deserves for whatever reason. You cannot manufacture a better society by penalizing realities of the current world that you don’t like. Safe, legal abortion is a proven building block to a more equal and prosperous society.
Make no mistake: this is a further weakening of Indiana’s abortion policy for the purpose of grandstanding and scoring political points. It is phrased to make it sound like lawmakers are protecting the most vulnerable, but in practice, they’ll be forcing kids to grow up in homes without the resources to take care of them, and placing a much larger burden on Indiana’s taxpayers. Instead of looking at our state policy with the pragmatic eye that he used to, Holdman has crossed over to the dark side, protecting his future seat and power instead of sponsoring laws that actually help Hoosier families. It’s time to leave the Newt Gingrich/Lee Atwater days of Republican grandstanding behind and start working on real solutions for real problems. All this does is codify the most terrible kind of grief.
Uncle Trav, for the first time in my life, I’m not just disappointed but ashamed of you. Hardworking Hoosiers deserve more compassion than this.