For as long as I have been aware of the issue, I have been firmly in the pro-choice camp on abortion. I don't like the idea of abortion, but I've always been firmly feminist in my views on it.
Until, loathe as I am to admit it, this whole Sarah Palin nonsense came about.
So it was two days after her nomination came out and I was at breakfast with the Wrights, the family I currently live with. It's a very liberal family. We were discussing Palin's nomination and it got around to her choosing to have a child she knew would be afflicted with Down Syndrome. And it comes around to her "deciding not to abort the baby." Well, chalk this up to my pure-heart, but I exclaim, "So! What horrible person would have?" To which Diana's brother Will replied, "A lot of people would have. A lot of people choose to abort the fetus if it's shown it will be deformed."
And suddenly a whole world of gray intruded onto what was largely a black and white issue of rights for me. I mean, a really ugly, awful issue - but one that I felt pretty sure about, even though I don't think I would ever choose abortion. So . . . maybe it was naive of me not to realize this, but I honestly didn't know that a couple who were trying for a baby might just abort a deformed one and start anew. So I tried to form an argument against that practice while still remaining pro-choice. And I found I couldn't do it. I started to say, "Well, that shouldn't be allowed, it's still a person!" And realized - shit, that's the pro-life argument. And shit, how was I going to use that argument when I think it's okay to abort a fetus based on rape, incest, or economic hardship? Holy fuck. Where do we draw the line?
I never even considered that someone would abort a child just because the child would be deformed. Hell, I was deformed. My parents never knew it while I was in the womb. I don't think my mother had an amniocentisis done. We first knew when I was six and diagnosed with scoliosis - and then it was more extensively discovered when I was 11 and diagnosed with Arnold-Chiari Malformation. Neither of these conditions are so life-changing as Down Syndrome, but the fact remains that they are congenital abnormalities.
I feel really, really simple-minded for not being aware of this facet of the abortion issue. Indeed, as horrifying as it seems to me to abort a fetus due to genetic malformations and easy as it might be for me to now eschew abortion as the worst kind of travesty, there is still a question about what kind of life the child is going to have - the health problems, the social/mental problems, the extra burden they're going to be to their family. Even my lesser conditions required a great deal of medical care and put a lot of pressure on my family, financially and emotionally. Not to mention the social/mental health problems due to the level of maturity I forced myself to reach very quickly and the knowledge of my own mortality, which I don't think was ever meant to be so tangible to the human mind at such a young age. Am I right, Ernest Becker?
When I was little and would see a movie like The Elephant Man or The Hunchback of Notre Dame or, hell (no pun intended), even The Exorcist, I always felt that I was watching myself in those movies. I felt that their pain and burden was my pain and burden, that any kind of deformed kid is going to identify with another, regardless of the degree. "There but for the grace of God go I," as they say (and, let it be said enthusiastically, "There but for the grace of Science"). So I identify with kids with Down Syndrome and was instinctively horrified that someone would choose that option for that reason.
But after thinking on it the past week or so, it hit me that if anything, this just proves that the matter has to be decided by the individual. I got a hard, fast shove to the creamy, confusing center of this issue, but I'm still coming out as pro-choice. No one can know the right or wrong answer when it comes to this question. We can only say what we would do, what we feel would be right. I'm still not willing to decide on behalf of a million other people what the right answer is.