Abortion is a Disability Issue

Abortion is a Disability Issue

by Tess Joseph

Usually, when folks with disabilities are mentioned in conversations about abortion, it’s in reference to birth defects. As Samantha Chavarria writes, such conversations are dominated by anti-abortion advocates’ weaponization of the disability community’s valid fears about eugenics.  The anti-abortion movement claims that selective abortion bans (bills that forbid abortions on the basis of a fetal diagnosis of disability) or prenatal testing will lead to the elimination of folks with disabilities. This stance, Chavarria argues, “isn’t just untrue, it isn’t even really meant to help disabled people.” By invoking the violent history of forced sterilization policies that targeted those with disabilities, anti-abortion advocates attempt to co-opt the disability community’s concerns to ultimately “limit information and bodily autonomy.”

This anti-abortion talking point is untrue and cruel. Under the guise of protecting folks with disabilities, s.e. smith notes, the anti-abortion movement imperils pregnant people, including disabled pregnant people. As Chavarria puts it, anti-abortion advocates, while purporting to care about folks with disabilities, ignore that “it’s actually disabled adults—not hypothetical disabled fetuses—who bear the brunt of anti-abortion legislation.” In mainstream discussions of abortion, there’s little (or no) acknowledgment that folks with disabilities can and do have sex, get pregnant, and get abortions. And when they choose to have an abortion, they often face added barriers. To name a few: financial strain when paying for a procedure, inaccessible clinics, and medical discrimination

We at the Woodhull Freedom Foundation firmly believe that when we have conversations about abortion, we must focus on all communities affected by attacks on our sexual and reproductive freedoms. In so doing, it’s important to grapple with the complexities of abortion, including how it relates to folks with disabilities and fears about eugenics. Above all, we must give particular focus to those who are most impacted by recent restrictive changes to abortion law, including folks with disabilities.

Photo credit: Hannah Perry

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