As hundreds of thousands gather to March for Life this Friday, we must all consider what it means to be totally pro-life.
A few years ago, a Newsweek article told us about Hillary Toucey, a single mother of three living in Louisiana. Toucey’s life was, as you might imagine, difficult.
Well actually, most of us probably couldn’t imagine her life. Besides struggling to support her children by herself, Toucey’s two sons, Jonah and Eli, had been with diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Eli’s autism was severe on the spectrum, and he’d also been diagnosed with “cerebral palsy, celiac disease, epilepsy, and asthma.”
At the time of the article, Toucey wasn’t just Eli’s primary caregiver, she was his only one.
While Toucey’s case was, perhaps, exceptional, the stress she was under wasn’t. “One 2009 study found that the mothers of older autistic children had levels of the stress-related hormone cortisol similar to those found in combat soldiers and those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.”
And then there’s the sense of despair that living under constant stress can induce. People like Toucey often rightly feel that there’s no one there to catch them if they fall. The question “what will become of my autistic child if I’m not there” is never far from their thoughts.
And making matters worse, if such a thing is possible, once an autistic person hits 21 or thereabouts, they often “age out” of the services that made life more manageable for them. Families then are on their own.
This Friday I’ll be in Washington DC for the March for Life, and hundreds of thousands of Christians will gather for similar marches around the country. As we do, stories like Toucey’s should prompt us to contemplate what it means to be fully pro-life.
Let’s be clear: talk about a “cure” for autism is just that, talk. Apart from a reasonable inference that there’s a genetic component, we just don’t know what causes autism spectrum disorder.
A far more likely scenario, discussed in a 2014 article in the Guardian, is that prenatal testing will soon identify fetuses at risk for autism, making those children targets of abortion as are those tested with Down syndrome.
So what should we do? Being pro-life—honoring the dignity and sanctity of human life from conception to natural death—requires helping people like Hillary Toucey. This requires imagination that transcends the ideology of both right and left. Government has a role to play if for no other reason than the sheer scale of the problem: according to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 68 children, including 1 in 42 boys, have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
At the same time, families of children with autism need something government can never provide: friends. A sense of isolation is part of their burden. Who better than the Church to help bear this burden?
I dream of a counterpart to pregnancy care centers where Christians walk alongside these families in the early stages and then “hand them off” to intentional communities that honor all of God’s children irrespective of their abilities or lack thereof. I’m happy to have encountered a few churches that offer this kind of support—but it’s just that: a few.
If the Guardian is correct that prenatal screening for autism is a “realistic possibility,” then we have no time to waste. If we want people to choose life, then we must show them, as we’ve done with pregnancy care centers, that prolife means a lot more than just being anti-abortion.
And before I leave you today, as I mentioned, this Friday is the March for Life. The Colson Center and leading pro-life organizations have prepared a fantastic 21-day prayer guide to help you support the cause of life, including praying for families with children who have disabilities. The guide is downloadable and it’s free—just come to ColsonCenter.org.
Further Reading and Information
Autism and Totally Pro-Life: Helping to Bear the Burden
John has highlighted a practical pro-life application for today’s commentary: support, encouragement and hands-on help for families who are dealing with the reality of autism. As he mentioned, bearing one another’s burdens is a way to be Christ’s hands and feet. For more details and information on being totally pro-life, check out the links below.