Ableism Has No Place In The Fight For Abortion Rights

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

It’s Been 30 Years Since The ADA. Will We Be Waiting Another 30 For True Equality?

During the height of the Black Lives Matter protests against George Floyd’s murder, my boyfriend and I would hear people marching right outside our Downtown Brooklyn apartment. We would rush over to the window to witness these historic rallies. At first, we took enormous pride and appreciation in the fact that thousands of New Yorkers would risk their health—since the pandemic was (and still is) very much a thing—to go to the streets to fight and demand much overdue racial justice and equity.

We would watch these protests every day from afar, which was a paradoxical phenomenon. My boyfriend is a non-U.S. citizen Black man, and I am a Korean-American disabled woman. We felt like we should be out there protesting alongside fellow Brooklynites, but the truth be told, we both were too scared to do so. From a quick periphery scan of the marchers outside the window (our apartment is close to street level), we noticed two observations: no one had a noticeable physical disability. An overwhelming majority of the crowd was white. I knew that my boyfriend and I would feel immense unease and insecurity if we were to join them, especially as brutal police involvement began to escalate.

As I wrote in Teen Vogue earlier this month, “participating in protests and rallies can be taxing and dangerous for people with disabilities under the best circumstances. For example, large crowds can be difficult for Deaf and hard-of-hearing people to navigate. The uneven, narrow, long routes often don’t accommodate people with mobility issues or wheelchair users. All this, combined with the recent reports of the anti-police brutality protests being met with clashes of police brutality, the movement is even less accessible for those with disabilities.”

Disability is the only identity group that literally doesn’t discriminate against other groups: people of all color, gender, sexual orientation, class, and any background could have a disability, and you can acquire a disability at any point in life. Besides women, people with disability make up the largest minority group in America: one in four adults in the country have some disability. Yet, we are the least represented group in mainstream media and news. Even during a time in history where there have been increased efforts of diversity and inclusion, the inclusion and acceptance of disabilities lag significantly behind.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law on July 26, 1990, marking its 30th anniversary this month. The ADA was the country’s first-ever comprehensive civil rights law for people with disabilities, offering protection against discrimination and imposing accessibility requirements in workplaces and the public. However, equality in theory, unfortunately, does not equate to equality in practice. Disability-related complaints remain among the largest categories filed with government agencies that enforce fair housing and employment laws, and too many buildings and public transportation routes remain mostly inaccessible.

People with disabilities who are a part of other minority groups are even further marginalized in society. For example, suppressed by both ableism and racism, Black disabled people are among the most susceptible to grotesque treatment in this country. Additionally, movements like #MeToo #TimesUp have given millions of women the platform to speak up about their own stories of abuse. Although an overwhelming 80% of disabled women are sexually abused, their voices were not included.

The truth of the matter is that many Americans are probably unaware that July is Disability Pride Month or that this year marks the ADA’s 30th anniversary. The concept of disability pride began to emerge in the early 2000s – it reinforces the idea of accepting and honoring each person’s uniqueness and treating it as another aspect of one’s identity. Perhaps it is because disability activism hasn’t become as trendy as racial justice, LGBTQ+ equality, or feminist movement. The ironic part is that disability is at the intersection of all those issues and then some. 

Amid the pandemic outbreak, there has been a surge in anti-Asian harassment, which hit me personally like a double-whammy. My disability has never been entirely accepted in many Asian cultures—in my personal experience, they have been the least receptive of my disability. Asian cultures are notorious for fostering a seemingly unrealistic strive for perfectionism, and having a disability is perceived as being as far from perfect as humanly possible. Growing up as a first-generation Korean-American young woman, I was always told that I should take up the least space possible, and not let my disability be a burden on others. The most significant hurt I’ve received was from Korean adults who thought my cerebral palsy was a curse or sinthose were the very people who were supposed to protect and comfort me. This led me to develop both internalized ableism and racism, which I am still in the process of unlearning today. 

So, it truly felt like I was disposed into a dystopian society when, in recent months, I’ve endured disgusting comments from strangers about my race while still receiving micro-aggressions from people of my race. In America, at least we’re making strides to deconstruct that entrenched history of beliefs. Things aren’t moving that progressively in Korea, and, needless to say, in many other Asian countries. For instance, China had a history of abandoning female babies, but now it’s mostly sick and disabled kids who are being thrown away.

In 2020, we are not as progressive as a society as our predecessors probably hoped we would be. Many minority communities are still severely marginalized and don’t have equal representation in any facet of society. Too many white Americans were oblivious to the level of brutality BIPOC face every day. It took the viral spread of an eight-minute video of George Floyd’s death to convince white Americans the level of racial injustice that exists to this day is unruly. Similarly, the global pandemic has proven that the mainstream public is willing to leave the disabled community behind in healthcare; they’re disproportionately impacted by unemployment; students with disabilities are losing their equal access to education.

The well-known mantra within the disability activist community is, “nothing about us without us,” emphasizing that people with disabilities must be integral and essential parts of every human and equal rights movement. Thirty years after the ADA passage, people with disabilities–like myself–are sidelined to society’s outer-most margins. It is not until we are viewed on the same caliber as our peers that we can truthfully say the ADA’s vision has been fully recognized. Whether this takes another 30 or 300 years, that’s up to the rest of society.

Images: Vitalii Vodolazskyi / Shutterstock

All The Ways States Are Suppressing The Vote In 2020

White feminism: that bitch that needs to sit down, stfu, and listen for a change.

Unfortunately, white feminism did not do this back when the suffrage movement pushed to secure women’s right to vote. The 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920, and gave women the right to vote, which rules. What does not, in fact, rule, is that it did not secure the right to vote for women of color. It wasn’t until years later, when the Voting Rights Act passed in 1965 and prohibited racial discrimination in voting, did black men and women have more equal access to the franchise.

White women quite literally left women of color behind.

In fact, the 55th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday on March 7 commemorates the day when people of color attempted to march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, to peacefully demand their access to the ballot. They only made it 6 blocks to the Edmund Pettus Bridge, where cops attacked them with tear gas, clubs, and the like.

Where were the white women who wanted everyone to have the right to vote then? Susan…Carol…Karen…where you at?

As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the suffrage movement and the 19th Amendment, let’s try to do so by also acknowledging its blind spots and honoring the ongoing issues we have yet and need to fix. Might be a cute thing for us to do for a change, no? In 2020, women may have the right to vote, but voter suppression is a very real thing and it — surprise, surprise — targets people of color (as well as people with disabilities and students).

In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down a provision in the Voting Rights Act that required nine states with a history of racial discrimination in voting to clear changes in their elections with the federal government. Since then, state governments have pursued efforts to disenfranchise voters who may question their claim to power.

White women: let’s put down our “Men Are Trash!!!” signs (don’t throw them away, babe, just put them down for now), and pick up our “White Women Have Privilege Too And If We Don’t Check It We Join The Trash” signs.

For starters, here’s a breakdown of how voter suppression works in this country, so you can stay educated and be aware of how you can vote to end this bullshit.

Voter ID Laws

Let’s start with something as simple as the laws behind which types of identification you need in order to vote. Most states (36) require you to bring ID to the polls when you vote. Some states (7) have exceptionally strict ID laws, like requiring you have more than one government-issued ID in order to vote. Here’s the thing: over 21 million U.S. citizens do not have a government-issued photo ID.

Think about it: Access to official identification like that is a privilege. It often costs money to get an ID, and in some cases a lot of money. In 2018, obtaining a Missouri driver’s license cost $89.00. In many cases, you have to travel to go get the ID. That costs money (public transportation/gas). These things also require time. If you’ve ever been to the DMV, first of all, my deepest sympathies to you and your family, and second, you know very well how that experience can take up an entire fucking afternoon.

Time is also privilege, as working-class people are busy working and/or looking after their family without the help of childcare, and don’t have the ability to get time off to go and get an ID. Also, most homeless people can’t get IDs because they don’t have a permanent address.

And because of the cute lil’ rigged system white people have created in this country that keeps them on top, all of this disproportionally affects people of color.  Nationally, up to 25% of African-American citizens of voting age lack government-issued photo ID, compared to only 8% of whites, minority voters are questioned about their ID more than white voters, and specific laws like one in North Carolina that prohibits public assistance IDs and state employee ID cards, which are disproportionately held by Black voters, target minority voters. Capiche?

Voter Registration Laws

Moving on to the laws behind simply registering. Should be easy and fair, right? Think again, bitch! Some states have a cut off date for registering to vote, and unless you’re paying close attention, it’s easy to miss that date. Cut off dates only really made sense when you had to send your voter registration in by snail mail, so the state could get it in time of election day. Now, most states allow you to register online, so the cut off date is pretty pointless.

And for states that don’t have online registration…literally what are you doing? It’s 2020. Get online.

Politicians often use the concept of voter fraud to justify registration restrictions, but their claims lack any real evidence and are essentially fear-mongering. A recent study found that, since 2000, there were only 31 credible allegations of voter impersonation…that’s a v small amount. Yet politicians claim these documents are to “prove citizenship,” but really they are meant to stop people from voting.

Gerrymandering

Ugh, this bitch. We did an explainer on gerrymandering back in 2018, but for those of you who missed it, gerrymandering is when states redraw their district lines to manipulate the outcome of elections. Drawing district lines is meant to accurately represent population sizes and racial diversity, so y’all know bitches are using this to racially discriminate. This is America, after all.

Both parties are guilty of gerrymandering, but Republicans are more guilty of using racial discrimination to their advantage. And before we go and call Dems the heroes, this is mainly because Dems know we’re more popular among diverse voters.

Gerrymandering is a huge problem and a blatantly corrupt tactic that politicians continue to get away with. Fun!

 Voter Purging

Call me old fashioned, but I feel like we should leave the purging to the plot of the movie The Purge and keep it out of our voting system. But alas, voter purges are a process that take people off the voter registration lists if they have passed away, moved, been convicted of a felony, or haven’t voted in recent elections. I would say the last two are never a good enough reason to purge a voter, but what’s also messed up here is that the data the purges are based on is often wrong, so people are taken off the list for no reason, and don’t know about it until they show up to vote and are turned away.

For example, in the 2016 presidential primary, 200,000 names were improperly deleted from the voter roll in New York City.  And in June 2016, the Arkansas secretary of state provided a list suggesting that more than 7,700 names be removed from the rolls because of felony convictions, but turns out that roster was inaccurate af. It included people who had never been convicted of a felony, as well as people with past convictions whose voting rights had been restored.

According to a Brennan Center study, jurisdictions with higher a history of racial discrimination had significantly higher purge rates. Well, well, well, looky looky what we have here: voter suppression based on racism. Again.

 

Denying Felons the Right to Vote

Some states ban felons from voting while they are incarcerated, some while they’re on federal release, and some ban them from life. This is already messed up imo, as they are citizens of this country, but it’s even more ~fucked~ when you counter in the fact that they are still used in the census, and therefore used when creating district lines. Then you add in the fact that the criminal justice system is historically racist and disproportionally incarcerates Black and Latino men. In 2016, Black Americans comprised 27% of all individuals arrested in the United States — which is twice their share of the total population — and African-American adults are 5.9 times as likely to be incarcerated than whites, while Hispanics are 3.1 times as likely.

In Texas, Crystal Mason faces five years in prison for attempting to cast a provisional ballot in 2016 because she was never told the terms of her federal release barred her from doing so. Her vote was never even counted.

Crystal Mason is a Black woman, so it’s no surprise that her penalty is much more severe than those of white women, like Terri Lynn Rote, a white woman who just had to pay a $750 fine after purposely trying to cast a bad ballot for President Trump.

 

Election Day Accessibility

To top us off, there’s the fact that Election Day is most accessible to people without disabilities who work 9-5 jobs. For someone who works outside those hours, it’s harder to get to the polls.

Oh wow, look at this: across the country, counties with larger minority populations have fewer polling sites and poll workers per voter.

Also, only 40 percent of polling places fully accommodate people with disabilities.

Essentially, all of this bullshit comes together to make a bullshit sandwich that feeds a system that sets people up for failure. And the people it wants to fail is specific: minorities. Because if everyone’s voices were heard, the power dynamics of our political system might start to shift, and all old white men in Congress might have to give some of their power and wealth up.

Somewhere in the Capitol, Mitch McConnell just gasped.

So, how do we change this? Somewhat ironically, by voting. Vote for lawmakers who make voter suppression a major talking point in their campaigns. Call your Senators and tell them these issues are important to you and they need to be important them too if they want your vote. Get involved and get the word out; remind people to register to vote before the deadline, encourage them to look up the voter ID laws in their state, offer people a ride to the polls. Show these mofos they can’t stop us from voting.

As part of our #KeepIt100 campaign marking 100 years since the first women voted, we’re donating 20% of the purchase price of each sale (excluding taxes or shipping) of Keep It 100 merch to the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project