Every woman, without exception, has the right to control her own fertility but it is time to draw a line in the sand: People with disabilities cannot be used as pawns in the abortion debate by either the anti-abortion zealots or the pro-choice advocates.
I am completely pro-choice. I believe every woman has the right to decide when and how she gets pregnant. Every woman has the right to contraception. Every woman has the right to decide when, how and with whom she will have sex. Every woman has the right to terminate a pregnancy.
A woman should have the right to terminate a pregnancy, no matter what. She should be able to choose to have a child if it is the right decision for herself and her family. She should be able to choose to end a pregnancy or not even get pregnant in the first place if it is the right decision for herself and her family.
I completely respect and will fight with everything I have for women to have the right to control their own bodies and fertility. As a woman with multiple disabilities, I am very aware of the necessity for bodily autonomy. Women with disabilities are too often subject to physical and sexual abuse. We desperately need access to quality health care providers and comprehensive medical care, especially when it comes to our lady parts. Women with disabilities need reproductive justice as much as, if not more than, anybody else does.
Still, I am increasingly frustrated by the way people with disabilities are used to make the case both for and against abortion. At last night’s Republican National Convention, Rick Santorum used his daughter Bella’s disabilities as one hell of a nasty weapon in arguing that Republicans are the “pro-life” party:
Four and a half years ago I stood over a hospital isolette staring at the tiny hands of our newborn daughter who we hoped was perfectly healthy. But Bella’s hands were just a little different – and I knew different wasn’t good news.
The doctors later told us Bella was incompatible with life and to prepare to let go. 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.
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.
Never mind that Republicans want to destroy the social safety net that helps people with disabilities stay alive: Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, student loans, the Affordable Care Act, etc.
However, the anti-abortion people don’t have the corner on the market on co-opting the disability rights movement for its on purposes. I was horrified to read this recent op-ed on RHRealityCheck.org in which the columnist Sierra tries to make the case for abortion as a means to eliminate disease and disability.
Respecting the rights of disabled people does not mean honoring or celebrating disability itself. Apart from the perspective and political activism that many disabled people have found via their experiences as a discriminated-against class, I’d wager most people who are disabled would rather not be…
I get that who we are is shaped by experience and that many disabled people consider disability to be integral to their personalities – just as I see poverty as a formative experience for me – but I doubt they would have chosen to be disabled in the first place.
If I somehow (metaphysics be damned!) had a choice to be born in a body that would slowly disintegrate on me, like that of Stephen Hawking, or not to be born at all, I’d pick the latter. This does not mean that I think Stephen Hawking shouldn’t be alive. He is a great scientist. He has done marvelous things with his life. But that does not make the pain and horror of his situation any less. If I could prevent my own child from being born into a life like that, I would. I consider it my moral imperative. And if Stephen Hawking and I were hanging out in the metaphysical waiting room before descending to earth, and he told me he didn’t want to be born into all that suffering, it would be unfathomably selfish of me to demand that he endure what he has endured just so that I (and other healthful people) could benefit from his mind.
Yes. She really wrote all of that and a prominent reproductive justice blog really published it.
The idea that we should use abortion as a method of eliminating disability sent chills down my spine. What Sierra is talking about here, calling for the systematic termination of potentially disabled fetuses, is eugenics. This is 2012, not 1943. The Nazis are gone, and for good reason.
I believe that we as a pro-choice movement should fight like hell for a woman’s right to end a pregnancy based on her own individual situation but we absolutely should not support abortion as a means to end disability. The idea is not only evil but illogical. According to the Census Bureau, nearly 1 in 5 people in the United States have a disability and that number is likely to increase as the Baby Boomer generation grows older. In other words, disability is usually an acquired state and Sierra’s theory to systematically prevent disability and “suffering” just won’t work.
Of course, we do need continuous medical research to improve people with disabilities’ quality of life and yes, in some cases to find a cure for certain condition. However, trying to systematically eliminate disability through abortion is eugenics. It is wrong. As a pro-choice woman with disabilities, I cannot support it.