I wasn't going to write this post. Other people had already put into words any thoughts that I had on the subject and had said them more eloquently than any of the thoughts that were bouncing around the inside of my skull and so I thought I'd leave it as it was, sharing one of my favorite posts on facebook, but otherwise staying silent. And then I saw a conversation below a post on the subject that was being shared on a prominent Catholic website and I made the mistake of reading the comments.
I didn't think the comments would be bad. I mean, it wasn't like I was wadding into the comment section of the Huffington Post or National Catholic Reporter. But I was in for a surprise.
Oh and there was also a lot of "there are more important issues out there to waste time on this one."
That was what stopped me. That was when I knew that I needed to write this post.
The words "retarded" and "retard" are pretty common derogatory terms in our culture. They're used to describe situations and people that we don't like or that we think are stupid or ridiculous. That guy that just cut you off while you were driving? He's "just a retard." A situation was really horrible? It was "retarded." (let me say that I wince writing that, but that I think that it helps to lay out what we're facing before we go any further...)
I'm sure the vast, vast majority of people who use the word, do it unthinkingly. It's something they've used for years, decades even, and they don't give it a second thought.
We live in a society were the solution to knowing that a child will likely have this label if it's discovered while still in the womb is, far more often than not, to kill that child. A great percentage of our population who face the possibility of this diagnosis have shown by their actions that they're okay with this label being a death sentence. Plenty of the pregnancy books I read talk about like it's the obvious step to "stop this from happening" or to "eliminate the problem" (as in "pre-natal testing has done much to eliminate the problem...")
And I can't help but think that using the word that's been used for decades to describe those who are often most vulnerable among us as a common insult, does nothing to help the image that is going to come into a woman's mind when she's lying on the sonogram table and is given a frightening diagnosis. Because it's likely that her entire life she's heard the word used flippantly for all that is bad or stupid or ridiculous in the world, and now she's thinking of it as applying to the life within her and she's making a choice that statistics show is likely to not be in the baby's favor.
Yes, the choice goes beyond that, but the word, the use of the word, the derision with which it's used in our culture, does nothing to help. It hurts both the born and the unborn. Because like it or not, when you use that word, you're also saying that that situation or person or whatever it is that you're speaking of with derision is like so many people who would be medically (or technically or clinically or however it's used) labeled with the term.
But while Mae may not technically fit the label, we live in a world where those who are different are often called the r-word. We live in a world where the news reports that a mother has killed her autistic child and there's a certain segment of society that the murder is somehow justified. We live in a world where carefully worded prenatal books basically praise the murder of children who are seen as somehow less than perfect, because it's seen as the norm. An embrace of eugenic attitudes is creeping across our nation as surely as if we were in Belgium or some other nation that has decided it's okay to do away with those who do not fit the mold that we find "perfect."
And if we're truly going to be pro-life we need to be respectful of all life and remove the word altogether from our vocabulary. Use you're imagination. I know we can do better than resorting to the r-word when we dislike something.
Let's take the word off the table altogether. It might be tough at first. It isn't easy to pluck a word that a person uses reflexively from their vocabulary. It's easy to slip up and use it if you've been using it your entire life. But if you use the word stop yourself and start again, renew your quest to have your words mirror the actual respect that you have for life.
Because it matters. It matters so much. And until we start showing respect for life in all of its forms and phases, can we really expect those who don't see the innate value of human life to give our arguments a second look?