Many people in the pro-life and disability rights movements have heard of Gianna Jessen. Thirty-six years ago, Jessen came into the outside world, two months premature and weighing two pounds. The 18 hours before Jessen’s birth were spent in a saline abortion solution as medical personnel attempted to end her life.
Jessen has – please don’t use the words “suffers from” or “is afflicted with” – cerebral palsy (CP) as a result of her traumatic experience. As far as I know, the only visible evidence of this is a slight limp when she walks. For those of you who are not aware, I also have CP as a result of being born three months early. Since mine is more severe, I need to use a walker, like Jessen did as a child. I have respected and looked up to her for years. She is one of the first openly pro-life disability rights advocates, and one of the only disabled pro-lifers active in the public eye, that I’ve seen. We also share a passion for music. Jessen does not let her condition hold her back. She lives life to the fullest, and has said that she does not feel like she has a disability. I try to behave the same way.
There is one thing about Jessen’s philosophy that I do not yet understand. She views CP as a gift that God has given her. I am also a person of faith. While I believe God gave me this life and this body, it is a different type of gift than my God-given writing ability or the presents I might receive on my birthday. Jessen might be grateful for the chance to inspire others, but my cerebral palsy just “is.” It is neither a drawback nor a benefit, but something I’ve always had to deal with. I don’t know any other way of life.
Sometimes, I get very irritated with people telling me how inspirational I am. It is a common sentiment among many groups of people, but especially in the pro-life community. I understand why: the devaluing of people with disabilities is an issue we often face. How often do most people get to interact with a disabled pro-life activist? Though I appreciate those feelings and I’m glad to be an example, I want to be seen just like any other young woman. (Furthermore, my disability is an effect of my birth and not something that was present in the womb.) My friend Amanda, in my opinion, has a more realistic view. She once told me “You get up in the morning and put your pants on like the rest of us, don’t you?” — and she’s right. There really isn’t much of a difference between myself and people around me.
I do not fault Jessen or my friends for their views. I just think they’re … different. Maybe I will eventually come to understand what Jessen means. For now, I would simply like to focus on living my life – working towards my dreams, and saving others’ lives so that they can someday do the same.
Taylor Hyatt is a Summer student at The Interim.