At Tuesday's convention in Tampa, Rick Santorum addressed the thorny abortion issue. He did it with a personal reference, and his well-delivered, emotional message hit home with the delegates.
"I thank God that America still has one party that reaches out their hands in love to lift up all of God's children -- born and unborn, and says that each of us has dignity and all of us have the right to live the American Dream," Santorum said.
The line, met with deafening applause and one of the longest standing ovations of the night, was the culmination of Santorum's emotional telling of his daughter Bella's struggle with a rare genetic disorder that doctors predicted would leave her with a life not worth living.
"The doctors later told us Bella was incompatible with life and to prepare to let go," Santorum said. "They said, even if she did survive, her disabilities would be so severe that Bella would not have a life worth living."
"We didn't let go and today Bella is full of life and she has made our lives and countless others much more worth living," he added, his eyes welling with tears.
It's a story few people can tell. And I have a lot of respect for the Santorums and for every family who cares for a special needs child.
We had our own.
Laura Grace Dozer was born three months before her due date, in February of 1999. She was 2 pounds. She was in the hospital for three months and had three surgeries before she was able to go home. Laura's quality of life was not great. She lived her life, all 9 years of it, without walking or talking. She had countless physical issues and was labeled mentally retarded. She suffered from seizures, a movement disorder, and constant pain from scoliosis. Yet she attended school and had a profound impact on everyone who knew her. While I never would have asked for a child with such extreme physical and mental disabilities, my life is immeasurably better because she was in it.
So I understand the Santorums' struggles, and love for their child. And I respect the view that all life is precious. I would never presume to judge that because another person's quality of life is less than mine, it's not a "life worth living." But I think this is only half right.
Because I had Laura, I saw, firsthand, what happens to the quality of life of most families with children like these. Special needs children can be born into all kinds of families, regardless of their income, intelligence, or political persuasion.
When a special child is born into a family who can afford to care for them, has insurance to cover their medical needs and the intelligence to deal with the learning curve they bring, things can turn out okay. It's exceptionally difficult, but it's manageable.
When these children are born into families who love them dearly, but don't have the finances or support to care for them, everyone suffers.
These families struggle to pay the bills and emotionally care for someone who is totally dependent, most often for life.
These families often break down. Marriages fail. Children go hungry. Families are evicted. No one intends to let it happen, but it does. All too often.
And yet, with a little support, it doesn't have to be that way.
So, while Rick Santorum talks about the sanctity of life BEFORE birth, let's also take care of the life AFTER birth.
Here in Arizona, our legislature has cut services to special needs children and their families year after year. Saying we have to "make hard decisions" to save for a rainy day, families who need help with transportation, food, and medicine for these sweet little people get less help. Lawmakers take away the money that pays for therapy, respite services, and special education for this, our most vulnerable population. And these families, often the working poor, can't afford to take care of the basic needs of the rest of their children, the ones who DON'T need the services, because they spend every last dime taking care of the one that does. The story is the same in most places. There is never enough money to take care of these kids. Yet social services like the ones I am talking about tend to show up on Democratic budgets far more often than Republican ones, and I think that considering the GOP's stance on the "sanctity of life", that's a crying shame.
Rick Santorum, I won't say this very often but on this point, I agree with you. My Laura and your Bella had a lot more in common than you and I do. Their lives were and are very precious and they deserved their shot, regardless of their so-called quality of life.
But I think they, and all children like them deserve at least as much respect, care, and "sanctity" once they are out of the womb.