Pro Choice and Disabled - A Contradiction?
This fine reflection was originally posted at Disability Cool:
I have been a feminist for as long as I can remember. Even as a young girl at the age of ten, I did not believe in the stereotypes that other young girls did. In college, I told a guy off for calling me a "chick". "I am not a chick or a girl - I am a woman", I told him strongly. I had not even met another feminist at the point in my life, but feminism seemed to come naturally to me.
I have been disabled for as long as I can remember. My disability is genetic. It started to show itself when I was five years old and got progressively worse as I grew older. I was correctly diagnosed when I was 39 years old, so you can imagine what kind of medical procedures I had been put through all of my life.
Choice versus eugenics
So how do these two worlds connect and help to make sense of the title of this article. In my work with the women's community, I am well known for my pro-choice stance. I have gone to pro-choice rallies, spoke at a pro-choice forum about my own experience of having an abortion and even been on a CBC morning news show (a national TV network). I believe in a woman's right to choose if she wants to have an abortion or does not want to have an abortion. It does go both ways. And don't kid yourself, lot of women with disabilities have abortions just like lots of non-disabled women have abortions. Abortions should be covered by the medical health program wherever the woman lives and must be safe and legal. I believe in nothing less than this.
But then the disability part of me speaks up and says - watch out for pre-natal screening. The only reason for pre-natal screening is to get rid disabled fetuses. Does that de-value disabled people in our society? Yes, I certainly think that it does. But then the feminist part of me says that women must still have the right to have an abortion even if that means she is aborting a disabled fetus. Because, ultimately, she has to bear the child, and raise and care for it. If she does not love that child, and mistreats it for the rest of the life - that is unthinkable. Remember, too that women with disabilities also choose to have pre-natal screening and will also choose to abort a disabled fetus. It has never been just non-disabled women that make that choice.
Some women will choose to carry a disabled fetus to term. They are fine with the fact that their baby will have a disability. Actually, other people around her will probably be angry that she is choosing to have her baby even though she knows it will have a disability. They will try to convince her to have an abortion. The whole medical system will click into action for the abortion, but when she has a disabled baby, then she is on her own, and will have to struggle to make sure her baby is treated fairly by everyone.
I have had heated arguments with male and female disability rights activists who have called women who have had abortions "murderers". They don't believe in the right of women to have abortions and use the disability argument to argue against the rights of women. A Down's Syndrome group in Ontario even tried to get the government to ban late abortions. Late abortions are done when a women has received a positive amniocenteses and chooses to abort the fetus. The fetus probably has Down's Syndrome or spina bifida.
The dilemma of being a pro-choice feminist
It is hard to be a disabled pro-choice feminist. Both the disability rights movement and the women's movement has an argument with you. The disability rights movement wants you only to support people with disabilities and make sure that women never abort disabled fetuses and the women's movement wants you to always support a woman's right to an abortion no matter what the reason is. I have always leaned towards the feminist side even with my strong disability activist background. But I have spoken many a time to feminists telling about disabled people's lives and that we are valuable human beings. I tell them that genetic counselling must be unbiased so that women can get a true picture of our lives.
If after unbiased genetic counselling and a chance to meet people with disabilities (if the woman chooses), a woman stills wants that abortion because she has a disabled fetus - then that should be her legal right. I will support that right because I am a feminist and I will always fight for the right because I am a feminist. I will always bring up disabled people's issues as well because I can never forget that I still am a disability rights activist.