Since the time of Christ, the church has taken literally the command of Jesus to love one’s neighbor as oneself. While all who bear the divine image are neighbors within the Christian faith, following the parable of the Good Samaritan, Christians have generally prioritized care for the weak, downtrodden, lowly, forgotten, abandoned and rejected in society.
From the first century on, care for unwanted infants and children has been a noted feature of Christian practice.
Fr. Thomas “Tom” Vander Woude, Pastor of Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Gainesville, Virginia, knows something about sacrificial love. Five years ago, his own father died saving his brother, Josie, who has Down’s Syndrome, from drowning. Now, Fr. Vander Woude is carrying on the Christian tradition of showing mercy to orphans. Last week, when he learned that parents of a preborn baby had received a diagnosis of Down’s Syndrome and were planning to abort, he asked the members of his church for help finding a family willing to adopt the baby. His message went around the world – literally.
Here is the Facebook post that started it all:
It reads: “Posted by request of Fr. Vander Woude: There is a couple in another state who have contacted an adoption agency looking for a family to adopt their Down Syndrome unborn baby. If a couple has not been found by today they plan to abort the baby. If you are interested in adopting this baby, please contact Fr. VW IMMEDIATELY. We are asking all to pray for this baby and the wisdom that this couple realize the importance of human life and do not abort this beautiful gift from God.”
The news of this baby in need of a family’s love spread via social media, message boards, and yahoo groups. The day after it was posted to Facebook, I received the message from a friend who had received it from another friend. The time wasn’t right for my husband and I, so I didn’t respond, but hundreds of families did. Fr. Vander Woude and church volunteers poured through the requests. The adoption agency received three families information – ready and prepared to adopt a baby with special needs – who they would present to the expectant parents.
It was a soul-stirring story – or so I thought. More than eight in ten babies are aborted after a Down’s Syndrome diagnosis. This little one would not get the worst end of that statistic, thanks to the courage of parents willing to give her a chance at life, families willing to welcome her and a priest who was willing to bring them together.
Apparently not everyone got the warm fuzzies.
Katie J M Becker, writing on the website Jezebel, mocks the story. She refers to Fr. Vander Woude’s caring efforts as coercive. In her rather curious twist of reasoning, if a woman receives help that leads to her deciding to carry to term, she has been “pressured” but if she and her baby are abandoned by their community and she has an abortion, then that is just her free “choice.” Becker says that the church shouldn’t be “throwing resources at a nonviable fetus” and should instead help children with Down’s Syndrome that are “already alive.”
Leaving aside the fact that in the fifth month of pregnancy a preborn baby is unarguably “already alive” (otherwise, an abortion would be superfluous), Becker presents a false dilemma: churches can help individuals with physical and intellectual disabilities before and after birth. In fact, one of the largest churches in Northern Virginia has a dozen programs to serve children with disabilities and their families. Becker’s assumption that Holy Trinity’s resources are wasted on “fetuses” (that’s Latin for “offspring,” folks), is revealing of her assumptions about who is valuable and who isn’t. But, as plenty of people with Down’s Syndrome and their loved ones know, her assumptions are radically inconsistent with reality.
Amy Julia Becker (apparently no relation to the Jezebel blogger) ably answers Katie Becker‘s inaccurate characterization of Down’s Syndrome children and adds this nugget:
“It seems in the contemporary, pro-choice mindset, there was no choice other than abortion.
…This case could have easily been an example of how to find a solution outside of the politicized and polarized debates that continue to shape the abortion wars within the United States, and yet, abortion-rights activists dismiss the church’s efforts on behalf of this woman and her “nonviable fetus.” … The writers at Jezebel may think that this story demonstrates something coercive and destructive about the pro-life movement, but their response shows the opposite. We see a defense of abortion-rights going as far as suggesting that abortion is the better option, or the only option, for a baby with special needs. It demonstrates the ways in which the liberal feminist cause has been coerced into supporting a culture that considers some lives more worthy than others.”
Well said, Amy Becker. Well said, indeed.