Canada·FIRST PERSON

I'm a pastor who has counselled against abortion. My family knows first-hand how hard that decision is

When it became apparent that Jason McAllister’s daughter would be born with major developmental challenges, he and his wife were offered the option to abort.

For our family, abortion was never a choice. Life is

Jason McAllister, holding his daughter Joelle, is a pastor. His family knows through first-hand experience how choosing not to end a pregnancy can be a life-altering decision. (Submitted by Jason McAllister)

This First Person article is written by Jason McAllister who is a pastor in Prince George, B.C. For more information about CBC's First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

I knew what the news was before they sat down. The tension in the air was palpable. There was a tinge of excitement, but more than anything they were nervous. Anxious. Frightened about what was ahead. This teenage couple sat down in my office, arm in arm, and broke the news: she was pregnant and they wanted my advice as their pastor. They were incredibly fearful about what their parents would say. 

The question looming in the air was then asked, "Perhaps we should consider an abortion?"

As a pastor, I've had the privilege of sharing in some of the biggest joys of people's lives. Weddings, births, graduations. I've also had the opportunity to share in some deeply sorrowful moments with many men and women who have suffered through various struggles, deaths, miscarriages and unwanted pregnancies. Life is difficult. It can be harsh. I empathize with anyone faced with a life-altering decision like this.

I know because I lived through it.

Our daughter, Joelle, was born with a rare genetic condition: trisomy 18. She has an extra copy of her 18th chromosome and, as a result, she was born with several defects. She has a severe mental and physical developmental delay, reduced lung capacity and requires a machine to help her breathe while she sleeps. She also has digestive issues that mean she can only eat through a tube placed into her small intestine. She is partially deaf in one ear and was born with two holes in her heart. 

Despite these challenges, she brings joy to our lives with her bright smile. She is goofy and full of life. She will often crash her motorized chair into things simply for fun. Joelle has an infectious laugh and is in a word: vibrant. 

Jason McAllister’s daughter, Joelle, will often crash her motorized chair into things simply for fun. (Submitted by Jason McAllister)

We were given the choice to abort the pregnancy when it was evident something was not right in utero. But we kept faith. Two weeks after she was born, we were told that Joelle's diagnosis was incompatible with life. I remember a deafening silence in the room and the words just hung there. 

Surrounded by doctors, nurses, and social workers, my wife started to sob. I was left speechless. We didn't know what to do next. Would she pass away that evening, the next day, in a week? We weren't sure and neither was her medical team. The only surety, it seemed, was that our perfect daughter's life would be short. 

I remember feeling numb in those first few days and weeks. Later it would turn into anger and then sorrow — that she would have a short life, that she would not be "normal," that my hopes for her were dashed.

Most children with trisomy 18 do not live past their first year. Joelle is five now.

Joelle, 5, enjoys the sun with her sibling, Ben. (Submitted by Jason McAllister)

I would be lying if I didn't admit that my wife and I have regularly thought of and discussed the day when we will not have to care for our special needs daughter. If I'm being extremely honest with myself, there are days when it just seems too hard. Too much of an inconvenience to take care of her. It can be exhausting. A burden. 

There are times that we both long for a day when we're set free from this responsibility; one day she will die and we will breathe a sigh of relief that we don't have to fight for her right to exist. We will also grieve. Immensely.

These mixed emotions of wanting relief from her eventual passing come with a vast amount of guilt. Despite this, we wouldn't trade our daughter for the world and we are certainly confident in the decision we made many years ago to not abort her. 

I firmly believe that human life is not an inconvenience that we can just do away with. Suffering certainly isn't something that anyone would choose, yet the reality is that it's a part of life that cannot be avoided. Abortion was never a consideration for my wife and me — our faith guides us here. Rather than try to pursue the ever elusive happiness by avoiding any inconvenience or suffering, my wife and I have had to find the strength to live life in the midst of these things. Sometimes our hurts and our grief need to be felt, lived through and processed in order to heal. This includes grieving for a life that is now altered forever by a pregnancy that is not what we anticipated.

I feel this weight when it comes to my own daughter and I often wish that she didn't require 24/7 care. She certainly isn't viable on her own, but should she have been aborted because she requires someone to care for her every hour of every day of her life? She certainly will never contribute to society and will only cost taxpayers more as she ages. And so I ask, is being human enough to have natural rights? 

Jason McAllister holds his daughter, Joelle, in a family photo with his wife and four other children. (Submitted by Jason McAllister)

My daughter gives our family a sense of purpose and she forces us to live selflessly. Is that alone enough for her to be deemed worthy of life? 

Or perhaps we should have spared ourselves and others the inconvenience of her life. 

Many others, like us, who find out in utero that their child has a genetic condition are given the option to abort and "start over" — to get it right, so to speak. However, I believe human life should not be disposable because it is inconvenient, hard, or conceived in horrendous circumstances such as rape. 

A person's worth should not be tied to how they were conceived.

My beautiful daughter proves that her life has meaning every day that she takes a breath. She is thriving better than anyone could have dreamed. For us, for so many others — abortion is not the option. Life is. 

As for that young couple, I encouraged them to find the boldness to speak with their parents because the decision to continue — or abort — was not one to be made lightly. They decided to keep the pregnancy and had a healthy boy. To this day, when I see pictures of him on social media, happy and full of life, it gives me joy — just like my Joelle. 


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jason McAllister

Freelance contributor

Jason McAllister lives in Prince George, B.C., with his wife and five children. He is the lead pastor at Central Fellowship Baptist Church.

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