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 julian.assele@yale.edu .

  • drinkingthecupcake

    This column is so idiotic, it makes me feel like the author himself somehow survived a botched abortion, albeit with severe mental impairments.

    • aaleli

      And clearly you can opine on mental impairments.

  • Anonymous

    Interesting article! Your perspective of being raised in the foster system brings something new to the table in terms of discussing abortion. While I agree that life is valuable and that all life should be cherished, the only problem I have with pro-life is that it seems to ignore the idea of bodily autonomy. If a person were to be sick and need blood, an organ, or a bone marrow transfusion, and they knew who was a 100% match, they wouldn’t be forced to give up whatever was required for the other to survive. I don’t understand why this same idea doesn’t apply to a woman carrying a child. If it’s her body, why should she have to give up her bodily autonomy? I’d be interested in hearing your opinion on that issue of pro-life vs pro-choice.

    • Chris

      Respectfully, I’ve never understood the “bodily autonomy” argument. Our preborn children aren’t strangers demanding body parts, they exist because of choices we have made. It has always struck me as a philosophical concept, not grounded in the reality of women’s lives because it operates as an excuse to hide behind the uncomfortable fact that when you unpack the reasons that women have abortions, it often has to do with a lack of freedom and choice as manifested in a lack of resources and support. To be fully free and empowered is to control whether we get pregnant, first, and then know that we have the resources and support so that there is no tension between the needs of mothers and their children.

  • Carson Macik

    This is absolutely beautiful and speaks to the dignity one has regardless of ones circumstances. Truly an inspiring story

  • ldffly

    Outstanding. This needs publication in many other places.

  • old fetus

    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.

    Exactly right, Julian, and thanks for writing this powerful essay.

    All of us have hard lives in some regard, but your hard life directly contradicts the lie that murder is mercy.

    May your tribe increase!

  • aaleli

    So nice to hear a REAL perspective, rather than a theoretical one, for which “progressives” are so famous.

  • Jason

    Thank you for writing this. As a foster and adoptive dad, your story has helped shore me up against the tragedy I see working with these amazing children. You have a powerful voice. Go do great things.

  • Ronado Mugaga

    Abortion is a private decision. Lets us leave it to the women who are concerned.

    • Belo Rama

      What about the helpless lives?

    • CalamitusPrime

      Murder is a private decision. Let’s leave it to those who are concerned.

      Sounds just as stupid doesn’t it?

    • Penet

      Is that what it means, Roe vs Wade decision, the right to privacy? What about the men concerned? They have a right to a private decision not to be a man & stand up & protect his lover & their offspring? It’s his private decision to abandon them both to their fate, its now the woman’s problem? Way to go to be a man! Men like that used to be called cads!

  • Princess of Power

    If someone wanted to commit suicide, we’d all be standing there under the bridge begging her not to jump. We’d tell her how valuable her life is, try to give her a reason to hope again. Where there’s hope, there’s life.

    The motivation is the same for pro-life advocates. Like suicide, abortion — feticide — is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. A woman without options, without hope, who is so desperate as to commit feticide, knows abortion is the elimination, the murder, of her living, growing, developing, unborn child. A new human being of inestimable, unrepeatable value to the universe by reason of the gift of life. And the abortion industry preys on this hopelessness, calling it empowerment.

    Abortion is only committed by the depraved or the desperate. No one in this world should be left so desperate!