William Saletan writes the column “Human Nature” at Slate.com. In an article last June called “Fetal Flaw,” Saletan tried to argue several points about prenatal testing, abortion, and the pro-life position, especially in relation to the “problem” of a “defective fetus.” Briefly, he claimed that:
- The developing field of Noninvasive Prenatal Testing (NIPT) will allow earlier, safer, easier and more thorough prenatal screening than current techniques;
- Because “earlier tests will almost certainly increase the abortion rate,” pro-lifers must be opposed to the development of such tests. Therefore, the logical pro-life position is to oppose their implementation;
- This opposition means pro-lifers are against both science and public opinion. He states, “It puts pro-lifers in the politically untenable position of opposing information and health care, not just abortion.”
I believe that is an honest and fair summary of the article. You can feel free to correct me if you see it otherwise. I say that he “tried to argue” because he did a very poor job of it, although he obviously did not see it that way.
It’s not hard to see where the logic disappears.
Point 1 is the only accurate part of the article. It’s actually very true, and people of any political persuasion can see that. And praise God for good science! Twenty-five years ago when our daughter was born, things like this didn’t exist. If they had, it wouldn’t have changed whether or not she was born. She was and is a human being, our precious baby, and now our dear 25-year-old daughter. Testing wouldn’t have changed that but it would have helped us prepare for the upcoming days, months and years. Disability (I will not use the word defective) is not easy, but it is not a reason to kill a human being.
That brings me to point 2. Saletan says, “The separability of testing from abortion, coupled with the bundling of testable diseases and the ambiguity of how the findings will be applied, makes moral regulation of prenatal testing a logistical nightmare. It puts pro-lifers in the politically untenable position of opposing information and health care, not just abortion.” In other words, the only position pro-lifers can have is to oppose prenatal testing. He drags out a few examples (former presidential candidate Rick Santorum and a bill from the Virginia Legislature) to prove his point. There are three serious flaws in Saletan’s thinking.
- An increase in abortions does not have to be an “almost certain” result of NIPT. It’s true that more abortions are one possible result, but that’s not because of the testing. That result comes from the unspoken assumption that the fetus has no intrinsic value. When a physician finds a blocked artery or a malignant tumor or the beginning signs of Alzheimer’s disease in an adult patient, she doesn’t therefore say, “It’s time to kill this patient. He’s going to either die soon or be a burden to his family.” Instead she begins to prescribe treatments, therapy and lifestyle changes. Why? Because most people in our society (although not all, unfortunately) still believe the patient has intrinsic value and we should try to save his life. The problem is, the worldview of our society has degraded to the point where “defective fetuses” are no longer accorded that same value. They are defective, they are a problem – these two words are found in the first sentence of Saletan’s column – and they are powerless. So don’t bother treating them, abort them. It is not testing or test results that kills babies. It is a worldview, mercilessly advocated by Saletan and many others, that leads to this result.
- Many pro-lifers are very supportive of good science and good tests. I do, for one, and I can point to many others. It is true, as Saletan demonstrates, that some pro-lifers do oppose prenatal testing. I suspect many pro-lifers oppose prenatal testing because they haven’t taken the time to think about alternatives other than abortion. If they do, most of them would agree that the battle isn’t against good science, it’s against a wicked worldview.
- Saletan’s final flaw here is that he doesn’t seem to believe there is a viable alternative. In fact he points to it, albeit rather crudely, in his last paragraph. “But the best way to separate testing from abortion is to push the technology forward so that we’re fixing defective embryos and fetuses, not just discarding them. Who could be against that?” Although that last question is meant to be hypothetical, he spent the entire column pointing out that the answer is “pro-lifers, of course.” He can see the alternative but obviously doesn’t really believe it. Stated differently, Saletan does believe that defective fetuses can be fixed, and most likely believes that some will. But the article clearly shows he believes most will just be discarded. And there is not a word in the article suggesting that he thinks there is anything wrong with that. There are plenty of good alternatives to abortion. Yes, some babies can be treated before birth, but we all know that most disabling conditions cannot be “fixed.” Instead, those results can give parents the time to prepare their hearts and their homes, gather support, pray. The results give us, the Church, time to surround those families with love and compassion. Yes, the church needs to do better at this. I need to do better at this. It certainly wouldn’t hurt if Mr. Saletan would spend more time promoting this kind of “fix” rather than finding reasons to kill another baby.
In answering Point 2, I’ve also answered most of Point 3. We don’t oppose science, or information, or health care. Exactly the opposite is true. In fact, for decades pro-lifers have fought for the right of pregnant women to have accurate and complete information about the child in their womb, the physical and psychological risks of abortion, and the alternatives available. Pro-abortion forces have vociferously opposed any and all attempts to inform the mother despite (as Saletan details in the article) the fact that most Americans oppose an unlimited right to abortion. Polls do show that Americans are less opposed to abortion when the fetus is “defective.” Let’s start using language that isn’t so biased. People of God, put more action to your beliefs (i.e., show your faith with your works). Let’s start calling those babies children, created in the image of the God of this universe, rather than defective fetuses. Above all – though I don’t know if Mr. Salentan would agree with this – let’s teach mothers and fathers and families that there is good news that far outweighs this affliction, and it is found in God’s one and only Son. And then let’s see how public opinion changes. And even if it doesn’t change, killing babies is still wrong and always will be, just as killing blacks or Jews or Tutsis is and always will be wrong.
No Mr. Saletan, the best way to separate testing from abortion has nothing to do with pushing prenatal testing technology forward. The best way to separate testing from abortion is by providing love and care and hope to them and their parents, not just discarding them. Who could be against that?