The War For Hearts And Minds, by Andi Sligh
This post is based on a talk given by contributor Andi Sligh at the 2023 March for Life event held in Mobile, Alabama.
I was raised in a pro-life home and I recall spirited conversations about abortion with my mother as a teenager, but that young me had no idea how my beliefs would be strengthened by personal experience.
Advocates often cite edge cases in support of abortion - to save the life of the mother is one of those, and it’s a compelling argument. In 1999, our unborn child was diagnosed with Triploid Syndrome, a rare chromosomal abnormality that is (as the doctors say) "not compatible with life.” We were pressured by the geneticist to have an abortion but chose to return to my pro-life ob-gyn instead. He delivered our baby stillborn, and I almost died of a massive hemorrhage during the delivery. But we learned then what too few people understand - you don’t have to kill a child to save a mother’s life. Babies can be delivered early, which is not the same thing.
Three years later, I gave birth to our daughter, Sarah Kate. She was premature due to a placental abruption, weighing only two-and-a-half pounds. When I went into labor, I had no idea how good the odds of her survival were. It’s just not something you think about until it happens to you.
It was clear from the first moment that she was a unique individual with her own personality. Seeing her and the other preemies in the NICU clarified for us how horrifying the concept of late-term abortion is.
The doctors and nurses who cared for these sick babies did amazing work, and we are grateful. But one incident in the NICU gave me pause. A micro-preemie named David was in the incubator next to our daughter’s. He did not survive, and one of the staff noticed I had become friendly with his parents. She said something that still bothers me today - she said it was “probably better this way.” The idea that a child who is likely to be disabled is better off dead is so pervasive in our society that even this neonatal nurse believed it.
As a toddler, Sarah Kate was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, a motor condition that affects both legs and her right arm. She spent years in physical therapy, has had multiple surgeries, will always struggle with balance, and is unable to walk for long distances. In addition to cerebral palsy, she was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder this fall.
When she was seven, I became pregnant again. Following infertility, a miscarriage, a stillbirth, and a disabled child, I had no confidence that this pregnancy would end happily.
Still steadfastly pro-life, we declined all prenatal testing other than ultrasounds, which revealed we were having a boy. We chose a name - Nathan, which means gift from God - and on my husband’s birthday in 2010, I gave birth to Nathan, who is here with me today.
Shortly after he was born, the on-call pediatrician appeared, nervous and fearful, and told us that she suspected he had Down syndrome. Many mothers of children with Down syndrome initially feel sorrow, fear, and anguish. I asked a few questions and waited for the other shoe to drop. It never did. My anxiety came before Nathan was born so when his diagnosis came I actually felt relief - it was only Down syndrome!
My children’s lives have been filled with struggles, but NOT with suffering. Now age 20, Sarah Kate is a sophomore at Auburn University on a four-year presidential scholarship. She is the first woman member of the Auburn University Wheelchair Tennis team and a member of Delta Gamma sorority. As a teenager, she set and still holds junior national records in paraswimming, won several high school state championships in the same, has worked four summers as a swim coach, and teaches private swim lessons to young children - all with an arm and legs that don’t function typically. She is majoring in chemical engineering and has a 3.76 GPA; her goal is to work in biomedical nanotechnology.
Sarah Kate changes people’s perceptions of what it means to be a person with a disability - not all that many years ago people like her were denied an education. But while her accomplishments are many, her value is not in these accomplishments but in her existence as a child of God.
Nathan is now 12 years old. He is beloved by all who know him, has an uncanny ability to detect other people’s emotions and respond to them, and is a great problem-solver. He struggles with speech and language delays and fine motor skills, but he works hard and loves to learn. He plays tennis and is a competitive swimmer like his older sister, plays the snare drum in the band, is an altar server at church, and loves basketball, following the weather, monster trucks, Luke Bryan, and Jeeps. He loves to make us laugh and is the heart of our family.
Throughout his life, he has touched countless people who had never before spent time with a person with Down syndrome. To be Nathan’s mother is to be told over and over how his embrace made someone’s day. He is a rebuke to utilitarian views of humanity and a testament to the value of every life. His sister’s accomplishments are many, but they pale in comparison to what he brings to the world.
Fear and the desire to avoid suffering are at the root of many abortions. Western society has swallowed the lie that a life that is not perfect is not worth living, and we see that lie reflected in the medical assistance in dying laws in Canada and legal abortion here in the United States. Between 60 percent to 90 percent of children diagnosed with Down syndrome in utero are aborted in the U.S.; in Denmark, the number approaches 95%. Noninvasive prenatal testing makes it easier than ever to detect and dispose of children like Nathan. It is a tragedy for the children whose lives are lost, but also for the families who miss out on loving them and society at large which could learn so much from them.
Our family has long supported pro-life causes. We donate to our local crisis pregnancy center, we’ve been to the March for Life in Washington, DC, and we pray, of course. But God gave our family a unique pro-life opportunity. Our daily walk is a March for Life.
I’m 53 years old and I don’t remember a time without Roe. I celebrated the Dobbs decision last summer because I had hoped and prayed for decades that Roe would be overturned.
That day has finally come, but the damage to our society won’t be easily undone. Victory at the Supreme Court was one battle; it’s the war for hearts and minds that we must win.
Andi Sligh is a wife and mother of two children with disabilities and three dogs. She is a lifelong Alabamian, Dr. Pepper addict, Catholic convert, and former engineer who rediscovered a love of writing when she became a mom. You can find more of her writing at https://andisligh.com/