Before, both on and off my blog, I’ve called out people who are otherwise progressive, intelligent individuals on the left for having a poor understanding of the disability rights movement and not understanding why rhetoric about “quality of life” and “disease” was so problematic and wrong, and urged them to reconsider the medical model of disability, and stop unquestioningly supporting the ableism behind selective abortion practices.
Now though, it’s time for me to reach across the aisle and give equal time to the stupidity and flagrant misunderstanding and exploitation of disabled people on the right. You can thank Ross Douthat’s inane, nebulous, finger-pointing garbage in The New York Times today for that. The thesis of his article, titled Eugenics, Past & Future, is that, with the mapping of the genome of the foetus, disability-selective abortion will inevitably become the norm, and somehow, the left is to blame for that, because prominent pre-WWII left-wingers like Margaret Sanger, Tommy Douglas, and Irving Fischer were big proponents of eugenics until the Nazis took it to its natural, horrible conclusion.
I was skeptical, but not exactly outraged with Douthat until then. I’m aware of how trendy eugenics was amongst progressives pre-WWII, and I’m the first one to call out my self-styled progressive friends when they start advocating for a “parents’ license” or mandatory sterilization of those “too stupid” to have children. As a disabled progressive who is a reproductive justice advocate, I know the ugly history of medical science and left wing politics in the past, and my goal is to steer modern progressivism into a direction which involves marginalized people, rather than continuing the legacy of exclusion and discrimination practised by mainstream politics of the past (and present). Then Douthat offers this stupid little nugget:
Is this sort of “liberal eugenics,” in which the agents of reproductive selection are parents rather than the state, entirely different from the eugenics of Fisher’s era, which forced sterilization on unwilling men and women? Like so many of our debates about reproductive ethics, that question hinges on what one thinks about the moral status of the fetus.
I wonder how long it will take for Liberterians to start jumping on this, because it is an absolute outrage to compare the choices and decisions of individuals to that of oppressive, totalitarian governments. I won’t hold my breath though, their interest in civil liberties typically ends where my uterus begins.
No, Mr. Douthat, it does not depend on the “moral status of the fetus”. It depends on whether or not you are intelligent enough to recognize the difference between somebody’s personal decision, and being forced, I repeat, forced, to have your bodily autonomy robbed from you in the interest of the state. A more salient comparison might be between the forced sterilization and abortions of eugenics and the forced pregnancies and deliveries of people unfortunate enough to live in places where abortion is criminalized or made nigh impossible to access.
That would be enough to get my blood in a rolling boil, but he’s not finished yet. Mr. Douthat goes on to misrepresent what pro-choicers think about selective-abortions:
From a rigorously pro-choice perspective, the in utero phase is a space in human development where disease and disability can be eradicated, and our impulse toward perfection given ever-freer rein, without necessarily doing any violence to human dignity and human rights.
Actually, from my rigorously pro-choice perspective, I don’t think that “eradication” of disability and disease is an ideal. I think that it is up to whomever the uterus belongs to whether or not a disease or a disability is a deciding factor in an abortion. That’s where the word “choice” comes into the pro-choice position, you see?
Let’s talk a little bit more about disability, disease, goodness, and thinking our political alliance makes us infallible and good, shall we? Mr. Douthat is a Republican, well-known for his conservative stances on a variety of issues. What does he have to say to victims of Republican policies which more strongly echo the tactics of eugenicists, such as depriving people of their reproductive freedom, obliterating what little social-safety nets exist within the U.S while the poor and hungry languish, coming up with policies designed to humiliate welfare seekers and discourage them from applying, refusing to provide publicly-funded healthcare for all, and chipping away at what little publicly funded healthcare is accessible to disabled people once they are out of the womb, and the continuing worship at the altar of Social Darwinism? Nothing in this piece, that’s for sure.
But to tell you the truth, right-wing anti-choicers who cluck their tongues and lay out this “Oh won’t someone think of the cripples?” routine when abortion is discussed care very little about the life and health of disabled people. It’s a smokescreen meant to act as a “gotcha” moment to pro-choicers. But actions speak louder than words, and supporting ableist policies which leave disabled people helpless and vulnerable offer greater insight into what they think about the value of a disabled life than their stance on disability-selective abortion.
The truth is: the biggest danger to disabled people’s existence, value in society, and quality of life isn’t the mapping of a foetus’ genome. It’s doing nothing to address the inequality and ableism which define the world every disabled person is born into. Genome mapping has nothing to do with that.