With the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade last week, lots of people have been taking to the internet to express their thoughts. From Instagram, to op-eds, to even LinkedIn, people have been sharing their opinions, arguments, and even abortion stories. But left out of the conversation has been the disability community, and even worse, arguments surrounding abortion rights on both sides have been drenched in ableism.
Reproductive justice is a part of disability justice, yet the fear of disability has long been used to manipulate individuals towards abortion upon finding out the fetus will have disabilities. Many disabled advocates tell the stories of their parents being told “your child will never walk/talk/be “independent”/what have you—you should terminate the pregnancy.” Spoiler alert: disabled people have meaningful lives and often can do those very things with accommodations or accessibility aids.
There’s been an outpouring of personal abortion stories with traumatic maternal conditions which are often followed up with a one-two punch of “you might be forced to carry a disabled baby! This is horrible!” Pro-choice TikTok is filled with horrible content using the Horace filter making fun of the idea that having a disabled child is the worst part of losing reproductive rights.
I never thought I’d have to break it down this far, but in case you didn’t know: having a disabled child is not a tragedy. The lack of human rights for disabled people—and now, anyone with a uterus—however, is.
Disability is the largest marginalized community, comprising at least 20% of the population, and it is the only community that you, or anyone you love, can join at any time—yet disabled people have to fight to even be thought of in circles surrounding human rights because we are still trying to fight the stereotype that we are, in fact, real and full human beings. While abortion is health care, and should be a personal choice between a pregnant person and their doctor, the notion that having a child with a disability—or “deformed baby,” as TikTok is referencing—is harmful to actual disabled people who will be seriously impacted by this ruling.
Disabled people have long struggled with not having autonomy—over 1 million people live under conservatorships (you know, like Britney) and even more disabled adults live under strict guardianship. Disabled people are seven times more likely to be victims of sexual assault, and 5 out of 6 sexual assault crimes against disabled people are from someone in their close circle (so yeah, their rapist could force them to have an abortion or continue the pregnancy against their will). Disabled people are 11 times more likely to die from pregnancy and childbirth than non disabled people. The disabled population will be disproportionately affected by the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, and even more so for people who are BIPOC and disabled, yet are being used as pawns in a debate where nobody wins and disabled people definitely lose.
When leftists make jokes about disability being tragic, disabled people being unwanted and useless members of society, they actually feed Republican talking points that contribute to further marginalization of disabled people. Let’s face it: disability is a tough thing to navigate, but not because disability is a bad thing—it’s a tough thing to navigate because society wasn’t built for disabled people (transportation, literally buildings, etc.). The rare times elements of society were created with disabled people in mind, they were usually built to oppress us (forced sterilization, ugly laws, subminimum wage). Believing that disability is a bad thing is counter to the fight of disabled activists.
The other important thing to note is that not all disabilities are visible, detectable or even existing at birth. Children and adults can acquire disabilities at any time. Because the system is so broken, consequences like burnout and poverty amongst families (because medical care is expensive, hello?) statistically lead to neglect or abuse of disabled children. Navigating the disability world is hard on parents, so stigmatizing disability at any stage of life is extremely damaging.
The best way to support the best interests of pregnant people and disabled children is to have access to abortion rights, destigmatized medical care, and creating a world that is safe and accepting for all disabled people.
So what can you do?
Speak out: when you see ableism on social media—on either side of the aisle—you can stand up and say something.
Encourage your local abortion fund to have an accessibility plan: You should be donating anyway, send them an email while you’re at it asking for an inclusion plan and hold them accountable to adding it.
Take personal responsibility: We need everyone to learn about ableism, disability rights, and disability justice so that disabled people are included from the beginning.
Image: Maite Pons / Stocksy.com