Content Warning: This piece contains references to assault and abortion.
I never knew my father. My mother raised me by herself, which meant that life was often hard, despite her best efforts. I mostly slept on couches. There were days when I only ate peanut butter toast and spaghetti, simply because that was all we could get. My mother and I lived in motels and small apartments for many of my early years. Eventually, when my mother and extended family couldn’t take care of me, I was put into foster care.
People often justify abortion by saying that it stops unwanted children bound for terrible lives from suffering, that it is merciful. They think of how awful it would be for a child to be born into the world, unwanted and uncared for — of the rotting orphanages, abusive foster parents and overloaded social workers that they associate with foster care.
But these unwanted children were my brothers and sisters. I listened to trauma after trauma from kids who were sexually trafficked, beaten to a bloody pulp or simply abandoned. One of the strongest people I ever met was repeatedly raped by his own father for years. Another was kicked out by her parents for being lesbian and slept in a ditch for days during the dead of winter. When you hear these stories, abortion does seem merciful. That was my perspective for a long time, at least.
One day, I was sitting by the pool with one of my foster brothers. I asked him whether or not he would’ve preferred to have been aborted. He had been molested by his cousin, throttled by his father on a daily basis and forced to take care of his younger siblings from an early age. I was surprised when he said no, his voice infused with both confidence and candor. When I asked why, he told me something so simple that it still lingers in my head, guiding my thoughts on abortion to this day. “The great pain I’ve felt throughout my life has just made the love I’ve experienced even sweeter.”
It’s easy for us, the living, to say that aborting children is an act of mercy. But it’s not. It is society’s justification for the erasure of the most vulnerable. My foster brothers and sisters — people who have felt so much pain and witnessed so much horror — love life the most. They have also brought joy to others’ lives in turn; many of them are now ministers, teachers, mechanics and artists. But even for those who do not lead materially successful lives, the worth of their lives isn’t defined by what they do. Their lives are valuable, rather, because each of them has an innate worth. Life is a gift in and of itself, regardless of the circumstances into which it is born.
We pat ourselves on the back for sparing the poor from the pain of life. The pain of loneliness, sadness, maybe even despair. But we also deprive them of joy. The joy of love, of family, of friendship.
My skin crawls when I hear how children projected to be born with Down syndrome or cerebral palsy should be aborted so that they won’t “suffer” the pain of life, so that they’re not “unwanted.” But there is no such thing as an unwanted child; a child is always wanted. Their value is real regardless of the conditions into which they’re born. When pro-choicers talk about abortion, I think about how much sadder life would be without my wonderful foster brothers and sisters. Life is hard, a fact to which many who grow up in households of neglect and abuse can attest. But that does not justify denying them the right to life.
A just society does not solve poverty through a cleansing of the voiceless. Rather, it puts them first. Abortion does not remediate the plight of low-income women, nor does it give children homes or loving families. It is our responsibility to help the vulnerable by addressing their needs, not through abortion, but through the recognition that life is precious. That includes expanding adoption access and services for the poor. That means addressing the causes of poverty, not just the symptoms.
My foster father, who saved me from a life of poverty, has fostered, mentored and saved the lives of so many children over the past thirty years. Churches around the country raise tens of millions of dollars for shelters, adoption services and group homes. And yes, the Republican Party must do more to address the needs of low-income women and children, but while we should have nothing but compassion for vulnerable women facing such a decision, abortion is not the solution. We must employ public policy that improves material conditions for all while also protecting unborn life. A consistent life ethic, after all, is the only way to ensure a just society.
Julian Assele is a junior in Pauli Murray College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .