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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.

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  1. Brilliant piece, as always. Just, Brilliant.

  2. I agree with you here. I also think women need to be empowered to make this decision themselves. If it passes, it sets a dangerous precedent. I personally didn’t get any testing done except for genetic diseases, because A) it wouldn’t matter–I would not abort a child with Down Syndrome and B) I didn’t want to go through my pregnancy with this anxiety hanging over me. That being said, if I knew that my child would be stillborn or die shortly after birth or have zero quality of life, I would not want to carry that child to term. Having a healthy child with Down Syndrome is very different from having a child that will be hooked up on life support at birth. When you ban abortion in the case of disability, it’s a fine line to the next step.

    1. I’m pro choice and the choice to have Moxie was difficult for me for exactly the reasons I stated in the post.
      Added to that, they told me she’d be stillborn or if she survived birth, she would have extreme health issues.
      If I had listened to them, I would never have known that my daughter would actually be born with no health issues at all and would actually be the healthiest person in our family. And have an extra chromosome.
      The misinformation is more than appalling; I think it’s criminal

  3. Mike Sullivan says:

    That’s like saying the abolition of slavery was not necessary because it didn’t address the root of racism.

    What’s your argument in support of allowing legal selective abortion for Down syndrome, since you oppose banning it?

    1. You have a genuine talent for twisting words. It’s amazing. Even when I try, I can’t do it even a fraction as well as you can. The career counselor in me wonders what you actually do for a living. And what did you do to perfect this skill?

      1. Mike Sullivan says:

        Ad hominen Meriah. You post is full of contradiction. You rightly object to discrimination against disability, but then use a trojan horse to object to a proposed law that addresses discrimination against the disabled. SB334 does not interfere with a women’s choice if she finds she is pregnant and doesn’t want to be pregnant. The law deals with a women who wants to be pregnant, but then chooses to not have a particular type of child due to a prenatal diagnosis. The principle of non discrimination requires that an unborn child should be free to be born without discrimination on the basis of disability.

        Since you oppose a bill that correctly applies the principle of non-discrimination, what is your argument for allowing unrestricted legal abortion due to a diagnosis of Down syndrome, because you haven’t addressed the reason for your opposition.

        1. My point is that they are USING disability and gender as a way to control a choice that is a woman’s to make. It’s to further an agenda that actually has no bearing on truly caring about disability. These are the same people, remember, that push for budget cuts for the disabled and children with disabilities.

          If they truly cared about us with disabilities, then they should get to work on all of the points that I mentioned in the post: the lack of access and employment, substandard education, discrimination and abuse.

          1. Mike Sullivan says:

            I agree that these services should be funded and implemented. But, as Mark Leach rightly points out, that does not equate too less selective abortions for Down syndrome. Most western European countries, the UK, Australia and NZ have strong life-time social support services for those with Down syndrome, also have termination rates for Down syndrome between 65% to 95% of all pregnancies (both those with a prenatal diagnosis, and those without). The evidence is that strong social support services do not result in lower termination rates. Where selective termination for Down syndrome is illegal, termination rates are way lower.

            You appear to be supporting a women’s right to an abortion due to a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome. You haven’t presented an argument as to why unrestricted legal abortion due to a diagnosis of Down syndrome should be legal, rather than illegal.

          2. I didn’t talk in this post about the value of disability. That is also critical.

            About presenting arguments, I simply do not believe in making abortion illegal.

          3. Man, you got completely blown out of the water here, Mariah.

  4. Seraphina says:

    Thank you for this post–I totally agree with you. My husband and I are also pro-choice and chose not to terminate our pregnancy with a baby with DS. There are so few voices describing factors that parents consider in making this agonizing choice (and you didn’t even mention here the very high risk of sexual assault)–I have felt so alone. Thank you again.

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