Abortion and People with Disabilities
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) passed in 1990. This anti-discrimination legislation should have had a positive effect on perceptions of the disabled. For those well beyond infancy, it did.
But there was a dramatic decrease in the birth rate for Down Syndrome babies. A study on media framing, 1998-2006, showed disability was presented in negative terms. There were positive portrayals of prenatal testing, so that when there was a disability diagnosis, the pregnancy was terminated.
Therefore, the ready availability of abortion and its positive portrayal sabotages the cause of disability rights.
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.
Disability Rights and Selective Abortion
Martha Saxton, Gender and Justice in the Gene Age (conference)
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.
Pregnancy with a Physical Disability: One Psychologist’s Journey.
Erin E. Andrews, Spotlight on Disability Newsletter
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.
For a disability-rights group with opinions about this, see
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