A lot of pro-life folks often ask me how I can be both pro disability rights/anti-cure for autism, and pro choice in terms of women’s reproductive freedom. After all, one of the frequent reasons a woman would choose to abort is discovering that the foetus has some sort of developmental disability, and if a prenatal test is discovered, then surely abortion would mean that the most dangerous place for an autistic would be in the womb, amirite?
Whenever I am asked whether I would support a woman’s choice to abort if she knew the foetus she was carrying was autistic, the answer often surprises people: “Damn skippy I would, it’s her choice.”
But the answer to how I can reconcile my pro-choice views with my disability rights views is simpler than people give me credit for. It’s a simple matter of fact that, in the grand scheme of disability rights, abortion is a red herring. Abortion is not the huge problem when it comes to protecting the disabled. In fact, I know of disabled individuals who required abortions in order to save themselves from a particularly risky pregnancy. And if abortion were made illegal or selective abortions based on disability were outlawed, that would not be a boon to the disabled community. It would just mean more disabled individuals would be born to families who didn’t want them. Be honest, do you get warm and fuzzy at the idea of a disabled child growing up in this woman’s household, when she thought her child’s disability was devastating enough to entitle her to millions of dollars?
Outlawing abortion wouldn’t fix the problems disabled individuals face on a daily basis. But do you know what would make a huge difference in the rate of how many disabled foetuses are aborted? Improving the scope and quality of social services for the disabled, so that a disabled child wouldn’t end up meaning financial ruin for parents. Increasing funding to maternal and child health initiatives and tailoring them for mothers with disabled children (and disabled mothers) so that it is not a difficulty for a single mother to raise a disabled child would be another way. And finances aside, the single biggest blow to disability-selective abortion would be the elimination of disablist ideas and rhetoric from society and medicine. If disability is treated and thought of as a variant, not a tragedy, then it is less desirable for a woman to abort her foetus based on it having a disability.
At the end of the day, I am not going to criticize any woman for choosing to abort, regardless of her choice. But I will always, until things change for the better, be critical of the society and the culture that makes raising a disabled child seem like a burden or a tragedy, and doesn’t offer the assistance needed to assure a better quality of life for all.