Several people have covered this story recently much better than I will, but I really want to talk about Senate Bill 334, filed by Indiana Republican Senator Travis Holdman. Senate Bill 334 would make it illegal for medical providers to perform abortions based on disability or gender.
I realize that Senate Bill 334 sounds like a bill that, as a disability advocate, I should support. As I’ve said before, even though I’m pro-choice, I don’t like that it’s a reality that women get abortions because of a disability in a fetus, or the high risk of it acquiring a disability. It makes me feel sad. However, I do understand that there are reasons why it happens, ranging from pressure from the medical community to abort to parental concerns about being able to handle the needs of a disabled child, to general concerns from all involved about the child’s potential quality of life.
And, as Meriah Nicholls said in her essay “How to Save a Disabled Baby“, written last week, “Our country is not kind to people with disabilities”:
“What mother, not knowing about or having access to communities of proud, educated, successful people with disabilities, would want her child to be subjected to what most people with disabilities in the United States are?”
Yes, I understand why these abortions happen.
Although, quite frankly, who cares if I understand? The decision is not mine.
That’s what it ultimately boils down to for me. I don’t feel that I can say to women, “You have the right to choose, except in this one circumstance,” no matter how sad I feel about the reason she feels to end a pregnancy.
So I can’t support Senate Bill 334. I don’t even trust the motives behind Senate Bill 334, actually.
I Don’t Think Senate Bill 334 Is What It Seems
David Perry suggests in “Anti-Choice Activists Try to Drive Wedge Between Reproductive, Disability Rights Activists” that the strategy behind Senate Bill 334 is to “divide and conquer” disability activists and reproductive rights activists, and I think he’s right. That sort of strategy is insidious, and makes me even more determined to insist that women have the right to choose, period. Perry says:
“We fight back with accurate information and coalition building. We say: A woman’s right to choose is inviolate. Then we say: But before that choice, let’s make sure that it’s based on reality, not fear-mongering or misinformation.”
Perry is talking about the medical community and its tendency to give outdated and often inaccurate information to mothers who are a carrying a disabled fetus, and how Louisiana has legislated that abortion can’t be presented as an option in those cases (although it certainly is in other states).
He makes a vital point. Women need the correct information about a diagnosed disability in a fetus in order to make the best personal decision, as well as the correct information about potential options. Anything else is infantilizing, in that there’s an assumption that women won’t be able to make a good decision when people are honest with them and provide them with the best available information, and profoundly disrespectful to both women and to disabled people – after all, this will just be a disabled baby, why bother to give the mother accurate facts, or to even learn the accurate facts to give?
“Our country is not good to people with disabilities,” Meriah Nicholls writes. We need to pay attention to this, folks. If doctors are lying about us before we’re even born, or can’t be bothered to learn enough about us to ensure that they’re giving the people who will parent us the right facts, then there’s a big problem with how this country sees us.
Senate Bill 334 – Deja Vu All Over Again
I remember writing a similar post to this in 2013, when North Dakota tried to pass the same legislation. (I thought it had passed; thank God it didn’t). If the government really wanted women to stop aborting disabled fetuses, it would make it easier for parents to raise disabled children. From that 2013 blog post:
“I submit that the lawmakers that put this new abortion law in North Dakota together that if they were truly concerned about lowering the number of fetuses that are disabled or that may become disabled because of a congenital condition, they’d concentrate on making these social reforms rather than making an abortion law about fetuses with disabilities:
1. Make adequate funding for respite, personal development, special diet and equipment, early intervention programs, and a case coordination worker available to families of disabled children from the toddler years until adult services kick in.
2. Recognize that because of expenses associated with raising a disabled child, a family that might be “well off” otherwise may need to rely on safety net services such as food stamps and Medicare.
3. Develop ways for parents and caregivers to connect and support each other, to further their education about caregiving issues, and to quickly access appropriate supports in a crisis.
4. Ensure that schools are properly following the IPRC process for disabled students, including the piece about transition planning for when a student moves from elementary to junior high, junior high to high school, and high school to post-secondary school or the job market.
5. Explore options for community-based residential placements (and not just group homes). Give disabled people a fighting chance to be community members. Develop ways to monitor the safety of of these placements on a regular basis and to provide a timely and thorough response to reports of violations.
6. Work to identify and eliminate ablism within government systems and start discussing how government can help the private sector with the same process.
7. Start acknowledging that the unemployment rate for disabled people in the US is much higher than for non-disabled people, and plan how to address it.
If I saw even one of those those things moved up on the priority list along with this new abortion law in North Dakota, I might believe that this is really about protecting the lives of disabled people.”
I simply don’t trust that GOP-sponsored abortion legislation regarding disabled fetuses is really about saving the lives of disabled children. For a party that keeps talking about how it wants less government intervention in peoples’ lives and objects so vehemently to the government being involved in health care, this doesn’t seem a logical way for it to ensure that as many disabled fetuses as possible as carried to term – but for a party that has consistently displayed a vested interest in eroding a woman’s right to choose wherever it can, it makes perfect sense.
And it makes me frightened for my friends in America.
Oh, if you look at Senate Bill 334, you’ll see that it’s also trying to stop abortions being performed on the basis of gender. This is a concern too, of course – except that I’d rather find out how many of these actually happen in America before commenting on it. Recent data indicate that 75% of mothers who receive a prenatal diagnosis of Down Syndrome terminate the pregnancy – obviously that sort of thing isn’t happening on the gender front in America. In fact, Perry suggests that the sex-selection portion of Senate Bill 334 is a “smokescreen“.
I don’t like any of this.
What do you think?