In 2002, Sarah C. Williams discovered that her preborn daughter had a life-limiting disorder. She shared her story in an opinion piece in USA Today about why she attended the March for Life this year: because she chose life for her dying daughter. Williams describes how her doctor informed her that her baby suffered from lethal skeletal dysplasia, which meant that when she was born she would not be able to breathe. However, the doctor did not say “she”; he called the baby “it.” He instructed Williams and her husband on how to schedule an abortion.
Williams writes that she was in shock after the news, but “when the shock lifted, I knew she wasn’t an ‘it.’ She was my daughter, a sick and dying child who needed me.” Williams and her husband named their daughter Cerian, and Williams carried her daughter for 16 weeks following the diagnosis. Cerian passed away during labor.
Williams, who has shared her experiences in the spiritual autobiography “Perfectly Human,” writes candidly about how challenging her decision was for other people. She wrote, “What I did not anticipate in making the decision to carry a sick baby to term was the anger that it would provoke in others. I discovered that we live in a society in which the decision not to abort an abnormal fetus requires a defense.”
A colleague went so far as to suggest that Williams had an obligation to herself and her two living children to abort her disabled daughter in case she survived birth and was severely handicapped. Friends told her it was wrong to “bring suffering into the world if you know you can prevent it.” Williams notes that these arguments are based on a limited understanding of choice and freedom. She asked:
But what if freedom is not what we think? What if freedom is the willingness to put my own comfort to one side in order to care for another person? What if freedom is the ability to choose to love, even when it is hard?
For Williams, after she chose life, carrying Cerian to term was an “unexpected privilege.” While there was tremendous grief, there was also joy, and she says Cerian taught her what it means to be fully human. In her book, she wrote, “Cerian is not a strong religious principle or a rule that compels me to make hard and fast ethical decisions. She is a beautiful person who is teaching me to love the vulnerable, treasure the unlovely, and face fear with dignity and hope.”
Many parents of babies with life-limiting conditions, like Williams, have treasured the brief time they have with their children. Abortion cannot eliminate disease or suffering; it can only end unique and precious human lives. All parents facing a difficult diagnosis deserve to know that there are other options.
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