Women with Disabilities Speak
(compiled by Rachel MacNair)
Alison Davis wrote in a classic article for the journal Disability and Society:
Feminists, though accustomed to fighting for the emancipation of women, are failing to address this incongruous situation, and the double discrimination faced by women with disabilities. This is partly due to the fact that they regard abortion as an unequivocal “right.”
I will argue that far from being a right, abortion underlines women’s oppression and is counter-productive to women in general, and to disabled women in particular.
Source: Women with disabilities: Abortion and liberation. Disability and Society, 2(3), 275-284, (1987).
In her personal story on the web site of the American Psychological Association, psychologist Erin E. Andrews writes:
When I found out I was pregnant, I was overjoyed, but also apprehensive. I am a congenital triple amputee who uses a power wheelchair for mobility. I was less concerned about the effects of my disability, and more concerned about the attitudes of others toward my pregnancy. As a rehabilitation psychologist, I am well aware that women with disabilities face barriers to reproductive health and that social biases exist which portray women with disabilities as asexual, infertile, and incapable as mothers.
Source: Andrews, E. E. (2011, December). Pregnancy with a physical disability: One psychologist’s journey. Spotlight on Disability Newsletter.
Bertha Alvarez Manninen writes in Disability Studies Quarterly:
Although I self-identify as pro-choice, I do believe certain instances of abortion can be classified as, in Judith Jarvis Thomson’s words, indecent. . . . In particular, I am concerned with cases where fetuses that had been thus far welcomed and loved by their respective community are suddenly regarded as candidates for abortion simply because they may have been diagnosed with a disability. That is, I am worried about cases where disability is deemed sufficient grounds for dehumanizing a being who had been, up until that point, embraced.
Source: The replaceable fetus: A reflection on abortion and disability. Disabilities Studies Quarterly, 35(1). (2015)
While today’s feminists are not responsible for the eugenic biases of their fore-mothers, some of these prejudices have persisted or have gone unchallenged in the reproductive rights movement today. Consequently many women with disabilities feel alienated from this movement. On the other hand some pro-choice feminists felt so deeply alienated from the disability community that they have been willing to claim, “The right wing wants to force us to have defective babies.” Clearly there is work to be done. . .
The fact is, it is discriminatory attitudes and thoughtless behaviors, and the ostracization and lack of accommodation which follow, that make life difficult. The oppression, one way or another, is what’s most disabling about disability. . .
But many parents of disabled children have spoken up to validate the joys and satisfactions of raising a disabled child. A vast literature of books and articles by these parents confirm the view that discriminatory attitudes make raising a disabled child much more difficult than the actual logistics of their unique care. . .
How is it possible to defend selective abortion on the basis of “a woman’s right to choose” when this “choice” is so constrained by oppressive values and attitudes? . . . For those with “disability-positive” attitudes, the analogy with sex-selection is obvious. Oppressive assumptions, not inherent characteristics, have devalued who this fetus will grow into.
Source: Disability rights and selective abortion. Conference: Gender and Justice in the Gene Age. (2004).
Ashley Asch makes the case that pro-life and pro-choice agree on in an oft-cited article:
In order to make testing and selecting for or against disability consonant with improving life for those who will inevitably be born with or acquire disabilities, our clinical and policy establishments must communicate that it is as acceptable to live with a disability as it is to live without one and that society will support and appreciate everyone with the inevitable variety of traits. . . . If that professional message is conveyed, more prospective parents may envision that their lives can be rewarding, whatever the characteristics of the child they are raising. . . . If the child with a disability is not a problem for the world, and the world is not a problem for the child, perhaps we can diminish our desire for prenatal testing and selective abortion and can comfortably welcome and support children of all characteristics.
Source: Asch, A. (1999) Prenatal Diagnosis and Selective Abortion: A Challenge to Practice and Policy. American Journal of Public Health, 89(11), 1649-1657.