A new proposal by a state senator seeks to make it criminal to abort a fetus on the basis of its disability or gender. Since women rarely abort in the United States on the basis of gender, it appears (as David Perry aptly stated), as if gender is simply a smokescreen for the real Trojan horse on the pro-life war on abortion: disability.
Fetuses with disabilities which can be detected in-utero such as Down syndrome, dwarfism, limb differences and spina bifida are regularly aborted. Women are encouraged to engage in pre-natal testing and to make a termination choice if/when their fetus is found to have a disability. I know that I was, when my daughter Moxie was discovered in-utero to have Down syndrome.
Choosing to terminate a pregnancy because the infant is found to have a disability is disturbing to both people with disabilities and those who feel that abortion is repugnant. As a person with a disability, I find the idea of aborting a baby because of their disability distressing, but as a mother it is comprehensible.
Our country is not kind to people with disabilities.
Access is far from equal. The disabled are on the lowest rungs of the social hierarchy. Health care is not standard nor is it free, and this, connected with government assistance means that people with disabilities must choose between a health care safety net and its resulting life of living below the poverty line, or risking it all and dying.
Education should be equal, with the passing of Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, yet the actual implementation of the law is another story. Inclusion in schools and classrooms is often a battle, fought and lost. Children with disabilities, both visible and not, grow up with substandard educations. Added to that, they are most at risk to be physically, sexually, mentally and emotionally abused.
What mother, not knowing about or having access to communities of proud, educated, successful people with disabilities, would want her child to be subjected to what most people with disabilities in the United States are?
Abortion, within that context, is understandable.
But banning abortion on the basis of disability to end the practice of selective abortion is akin to putting sticks in a river to change the course of its flow. It does not solve the problem.
And I don’t think the root of the problem here is abortion. It is the oppression of people with disabilities in the United States of America. It is the lack of equal access, education, employment and opportunities. It is the existence of healthcare and earning laws that keep us subject to a life lived in poverty.
If a mother lived in a society that valued disability, she would be likely want to keep her child with a disability.
If she had no fear that her child would be abused, discriminated against and would face a life of suffering, chances are she would keep the child.
The problem of abortion used as a means to terminate fetuses found with disabilities is solvable by working to change the value of disability within our country. It is solvable by ensuring that education, employment and access are equal for all. It is solvable by employing universal design, by changing our health care system so that people with disabilities are not penalized for earning an income.
Senate Bill 334 begins with a noble premise: that all lives are valuable, that abortion on the basis of gender or the presence of a disability is not something that should happen. But the way in which it seeks to change this does not address the root of the problem. Indeed, should the root be addressed, it is doubtful that the bill would be relevant at all.
Meriah Nichols is a counselor. Solo mom to 3 (one with Down syndrome, one on the spectrum). Deaf, and neurodiverse herself, she’s a gardening nerd who loves cats, Star Trek, and takes her coffee hot and black.