In the Washington Post op-ed piece “Jon Will’s Gift,” conservative columnist George Will uses the occasion of his son’s 40th birthday to reflect on raising a child with Down’s Syndrome. The column is moving, profoundly personal – and blatantly anti-choice.
Perhaps that was Will’s intention; after all, the piece does appear in the paper’s editorial section. Perhaps Will wanted to wrap a touching, lovely tribute to his son in gratuitously anti-choice language; perhaps he decided that shoehorning in a slam against private medical decisions would be more insightful than sharing his unique perspective on parenting a child with special needs, and the challenges and joys that that brings.
And so Will takes pains to note that his son was born “eight months before Roe v. Wade inaugurated this era of the casual destruction of pre-born babies,” draws a connection between “this era” and a sense of entitlement amongst Baby Boomers (and, presumably, younger couples of child-bearing age) that extends to a feeling of being entitled to perfect children, and concludes that “today science enables what the ethos ratifies, the choice of killing children with Down syndrome before birth. That is what happens to 90 percent of those whose parents receive a Down syndrome diagnosis through prenatal testing.”
Of course, Will fails to address the many reasons that expectant parents may make that choice. He also fails to consider that any sense of entitlement demonstrated by his peers and subsequent generations could be – and often is – attributed to a lot of other societal, political, and cultural occurrences. Instead, Will steps off his soapbox after that sentence and moves back to the ostensible subject of his piece, his son.
If Will really wanted to mount a convincing argument against terminating special-needs pregnancies, he could have done so without resorting to inflammatory language and tenuous correlations. His entire argument is in the title of his piece: his son, and the gifts that Will sees in him. The stories of special-needs individuals, and their families, are not told all that often in our society, particularly in such a high-profile venue; sharing these stories, and showing readers what both the obstacles and triumphs are, could help make the idea of raising a special needs child less daunting to many people. I would imagine that a skilled writer could make the case for continuing special-needs pregnancies much more subtly and poignantly simply by focusing on his actual experience, and wouldn’t even need to raise the specter of “killing children.” (Or, to be scientifically accurate, an in-utero fetus. But that doesn’t roll off the tongue as easily, I suppose.)
At the very least, such an article would make for a much more interesting and compelling story than yet another anti-choice piece that harangues women and families for making the decisions that are best for them.
Sarah's first book, Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement, will be out March 2013. For more information, follow her on Twitter @saraherdreich, or check out saraherdreich.com.