Arrival, Down Syndrome and a Growing Respect for Future Moms and Babies
Now more than ever, pro-life apologists should be emboldened and encouraged to wedge their foot in the door.
[Note: This article contains spoilers for the film Arrival.]
It’s not every day that a mainstream Hollywood film generates buzz for being pro-life, but new sci-fi drama Arrival bucks the trend. In it, we are introduced to the character of Dr. Louise Banks, a linguist tasked to communicate with a group of newly arrived aliens and determine their intent. Her work in the present day is interwoven with glimpses of joy, pain, and loss through the birth and tragic young death of her daughter from cancer. These scenes, which will hearken back to Tree of Life for some viewers, are ethereally shot to look like flashback memories.
In a culture that is still profoundly ambivalent about abortion, selective extermination is proving the sticking point for increasingly more people.
The girl’s name is Hannah, which Dr. Banks explains to her is a palindrome. This is the key to the film’s surprise ending, which reveals that the scenes with Louise’s daughter are set not in the past, but in the future. Her contact with the aliens has yielded the gift of future knowledge, showing Louise that if she marries the man she loves and has Hannah with him, he will ultimately abandon them both upon learning that Hannah is destined to die in her teens. Louise freely chooses this future anyway, knowing it will bring deep joy as well as crushing sadness.
Granted, choosing to marry a particular man and conceive a particular child with him is not a moral imperative, while choosing not to abort a child already conceived is. Still, the message of the film resonates powerfully in a world of pre-natal testing and selective abortion. Like Louise, parents may be granted a future vision that is fraught with pain, and society does not stand in their way should they choose to reject it by embracing death and darkness over life and light. Arrival argues that life is worth the pain.
In a culture that is still profoundly ambivalent about abortion, selective extermination is proving the sticking point for increasingly more people. Witness this surprisingly impassioned HuffPo piece, which condemns France for recently banning an award-winning ad that spotlights happy, smiling Down syndrome children. The language of the ban is stark and shocking: It states in so many words that the tone of the ad is “inappropriate,” because the scenes of happy Down syndrome youth are “likely to disturb the conscience of women who had lawfully made different personal life choices” [emphasis added]. The shamelessness of this language is breathtaking, but it has the benefit of getting right to the point: The pricking of conscience is repulsive and must be stifled at all costs. Perhaps we owe the authors of the ban some thanks. The more tentacles evil shows, the easier it is to hack them off.
Not everyone has lost the capacity to hear screams in the night.
I don’t know whether the woman who wrote the outraged Huffington Post piece is generally pro-life. I don’t know
whether she would extend her logic to the conclusion that no mother could ever be justified in aborting her child for any reason. But like the film-makers behind Arrival, she is instinctively guided towards life in the very cases that pro-abortion ethicists claim should be easiest: those where a child will suffer some form of pain or disability upon being brought into the world. While the opinion-makers in the ivory tower murmur with a gallingly twisted sentimentality about the love that drives parents of such children to murder them in utero, this is still by no means the default position of the layman, even the leftist layman. Not everyone has lost the capacity to hear screams in the night.
True, not all such tentatively pro-life gestures from the other side of the aisle are made for all the right reasons. Discussions of children with Down syndrome often lean most heavily on the premise that such children can enjoy great quality of life and grow up to be well-functioning adults. (Indeed, this is the primary emphasis of the “Dear Future Mom” ad itself.) Of course, the purest pro-life case sets aside the question of quality of life as irrelevant to the morality of the mother’s choice.
Nevertheless, we should recognize that even imperfect pro-life arguments manifest a visceral pull away from evil and towards the Good. This should be nurtured and celebrated to the greatest extent possible. Now more than ever, pro-life apologists should be emboldened and encouraged to wedge their foot in the door. It may only be wedged open a crack at the moment, but it will still let the light in.