We MUST talk about aborting future disabled lives.

There is a contingent within the pro-choice ideology which is getting uncomfortable about the exploitation of disability in pushing abortion to anti-abortion people. This entry on the pro-choice site RH Reality Check is a good example of the kind of criticism that is being leveled.

I am not pro-choice and therefore I have no horse in this race. But what I do have is the following strong conviction:

All children have the inalienable right to the highest standard of health.

I discussed this right in this entry. And yes, I brought up disabilities there as well.

I have absolutely zero sympathy for the arguments that advocating the abortion of fetuses that will grow up to be disabled individuals is demoralizing to disabled people. As an antinatalist, I don’t believe I should have been born. Yet I am not demoralized by that fact. Why should I be? To state that I should not have been born is not to say that my life is worthless: my life is obviously valuable to me, since I am alive. I also realize that being alive is a net negative.

Anyone who encourages others to refuse to examine the issue of aborting damaged fetuses is encouraging others to ignore the most fundamental right of all new human beings, their right to the highest standard of health, in the name of not offending certain people. And I find the fact that disabled children are purposefully being brought to term much, much more offensive than hurting some people’s feelings.

Because hurt feelings are not a “rational” argument, the author, Lenzi Sheible, has to make it sound as if talking about disabilities in the context of abortion means denying people’s humanity:

When people who aren’t usually pro-choice (like most Texas legislators) start making exceptions for fetuses with “abnormalities” in the same way that feminists do, I get nervous. I have to conclude that the rhetorical choice to justify abortion this way sacrifices the humanity of all people with disabilities on the altar of feminism.

The “fetal abnormalities” argument actually does devalue the lives of real people. When we rely on that stance, we’re trading on discourse that says, “No one would want to live if they had disabilities like those,” or “No one would want to take care of children with those kinds of disabilities.” What does that say about the people who are living with disabilities like those? That they should have never been born?

I included that first sentence because this is the standard tactic used by anti-feminists: associating feminists (people who want to abolish the exploitation of women) with conservatives or religious types (people who hate women and wish to continue exploiting them). She is part of the queer community, which is traditionally anti-feminist, so this comes as no surprise. The fact that both feminists and anti-abortion people realize how cruel it is to let disabled people be born does not mean that we need to start equating them.

As an antinatalist, I can say that no one should have been born, including myself. This fact exists beyond the scope of my personal feelings. I realize that this is a minority position. But if you agree with the principle that we owe children the highest standard of health, then you must agree that people with disabilities should not have been born.

Commentators on this entry have pointed out that there’s no contradiction between fighting for the rights of disabled people and not wanting more disabled people in this world. Obviously no one wants more disabled, exploited, suffering, unhappy people in this world. I can’t imagine anyone, not even the most cruel person, would argue otherwise.

Most importantly, I can’t imagine Sheible would say otherwise, either. So what exactly is her argument here? I can’t for the life of me figure it out. This is the fundamental confusion in this whole line of reasoning, I think.

Disabled people may be offended by the suggestion that they should not have been born, but I think that betrays a lack of understanding of the difference between aborting a fetus and protecting the people who do exist. A fetus is not a person, and aborting a fetus does not translate into an evaluation of the worth of any living human being. All human beings are equally valuable, no matter how disabled they are. All human beings have the right to health. Advocacy for disabled people and pro-abortion advocacy are both based on these principles.

Now, I do think Sheible makes some good points:

However, feminists have said little about how a pregnant person with mobility issues might have a more difficult time reaching their nearest abortion clinic; how a person with a chronic condition may have a more expensive abortion because of medical complications; or how a pregnant person with mental illness might have to choose their medications over their pregnancy.

I agree with all these points, but I can’t for the life of me see their relevance to the abortion of damaged fetuses. Again, I agree that disabled people should be defended, because they are human beings with their own rights and values. Fetuses are not human beings, and they don’t have rights that stand apart from the possibility of growing to become human beings with rights.

I also agree that, in the long term, making a strong distinction between damaged fetuses and healthy fetuses does probably end up delegitimizing the choice rhetoric that pro-choice advocates use. But the choice argument is complete nonsense, and so its weakening does not bother me at all. What bothers me is that some people are using anti-ableism as a pretense to argue against promoting the abortion of damaged fetuses. That really has to stop.

What I would like to see is an abortion clinic in every neighborhood, all abortions being easily accessible and free of cost, and legal or financial penalties to families who refuse to abort, especially if they give birth to non-viable or disabled persons. And I don’t see the pro-choice “abortion is bad and we all want fewer of them” rhetoric will be anything but run counter to that goal in the long term.

19 thoughts on “We MUST talk about aborting future disabled lives.

  1. Heretic November 5, 2014 at 15:17

    What especially stuck out for me here is that the anti-abortionists make an exception for fetal abnormalities but remember, they ALSO make an exception for pregnancies resulting from rape (when they aren’t arguing “legitimate rape,” that is). It seems no matter the side, though, women have to constantly apologize and argue a reason for having abortion that many other people can agree with in order to avoid being called selfish or a bigot. I’m referring to this quote you included, which is meant to appeal to parents of disabled children:

    “I no longer identify as pro-choice. How can I, when Sarah Palin congratulates herself for the “choice” to carry her Down’s Syndrome child to term?… All four of them appeared on a celebrity tabloid in the early days of 2010, declaring “we’re so glad we chose life!” That’s that sneaky, slippery power of language again!”

    I definitely think so-called “pro-life” people do not care about the child after it’s born, though they’ll do all they can to make sure it lives. Fetuses are not viable outside the womb before 22 weeks, and even at 22 weeks it’s very iffy; the most premature birth ever was 20 weeks. If it were up to me, couples would get evaluated as potential parents just as adoptive parents do in order to have children.

  2. jismith1989 February 9, 2015 at 02:21

    Eugenics is counter to antinatalism, because the former is a utopian ideology* which assumes that some forms of life can be justified and worth creating, whilst others are not, whereas we antinatalists argue that Life will always be a net harm, even if only the most “genetically fit” (however defined) were to breed. Most people are eugenicists, at least in Britain where I come from, of one form or another, as they believe that some people (like the poor and drug addicts and criminals and other stigmatized groups, in addition to the dsiabled) should not breed, whereas “good” sorts of people should. This is wrong and misguided, for it is the process of life that is bad, especially in the highly populated and exploitative global society that we have created, regardless of its participants. The “well bred” are merely better fitted to lying and cheating and stomping on faces with the proverbial boot, this is why we have evolved to like them, not because they make life any more worth living. We antinatalists should be enemies of eugenics, not advocates; all lives are, at least potentially, equally bad (unless you take the quasi-fascist line that the pleasures and joys of an elite justify the sufferings of the wretched mass of humanity, which I don’t and I think no moral person could). You should remember that any person who has a child can give birth to a disabled child or a child who will undergo extreme amounts of suffering, not matter how healthy or fit they are, that is the genetic lottery of reproduction. Eugenics can also introduce great suffering into the world afresh, as the 20th century European and American history of its implementation shows. Life would not be worth living even if the disabled (or the poor etc.) had never been born. I do believe that abortion should exist though; I simply believe that we should not be focusing on aborting the disabled when it would have been best if we had all been aborted.

    Take care, my fellow-sufferer!

    * Of course, antinatalism can also be utopian if we believe that all people will one day decide to go against their biological programming in order to reduce the suffering in the world. Whilst the ideology may be a good one and one that attracts a significant minority of people, especially the downtrodden and depressed, to think that everyone will accept it seems a bit millenarian to me. However, that isn’t to say that we shouldn’t advocate it or that it isn’t a valid moral framework, which I think it is.

  3. unabashedcalabash October 13, 2015 at 19:00

    I remember reading a story about a seven-year-old girl suing her religious parents for choosing to have her, despite knowing she would be born with severe degenerative illness that would cripple her and cause her incredible pain for her short life. (It’s great when disabled people are positive and overcome their disabilities with their positive outlook, but those are the stories the media privileges and we never hear about their much more common counterparts, the severely suffering disabled). Imagine that. A seven-year-old girl! I can’t remember if she won her lawsuit or not.

    Certainly people choosing to have children in spite of knowing they’ll be disabled are guilty of monstrous selfishness (they’re doing it for religious and/or ideological reasons or because “Downs children are so sweet and loving”). I tend to agree with you that people who choose to have any children are pretty selfish. I still haven’t decided whether to have any but at this point it seems more unlikely than not.

    In fact, it seems to me that in order to justify it (having children whether disabled or not) you need to believe in a “reason for being,” which sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t; in something like reincarnation of the soul, that people are born into different bodies and personalities to learn an important lesson they need to know (and though they may not deserve the outcome they learn something from whatever happens to them too, and maybe their next life is shaped by those experiences and what they learned from them–and need to learn, or unlearn, next–as by their own karmic actions). If you believe that then maybe it’s justified, yeah. In this belief system even the most suffering child is born that way to learn a lesson (which may seem abhorrent but isn’t in the belief system of someone who thinks there is an ultimate goal, such as the release of the soul from this life cycle upon achieving perfect understanding).

    I have bipolar disorder, which runs in my family (and was triggered by unfortunate events which were no one’s fault). Interestingly, the unaffected family members of those with schizophrenia or bipolar are benefited (they are far more likely to be of above average intelligence, to be successful, and to demonstrate high levels of creativity). Furthermore bipolar people (and also to a lesser extent schizophrenics, simply because it’s a more profoundly disabling disease) are also likely to be more intelligent/creative (when they’re not being hamstrung by their disease), and therefore are over-represented among artists and writers, so some people say it’s a “gift,” even if not to them than to humanity, and that maybe people (like Van Gogh, for example) have to suffer so humanity can gain some incredible works of art. This is such an incredibly selfish, heartless viewpoint it’s staggering. People with bipolar run as much as a twenty-five percent risk of dying by suicide; obviously the psychological pain that drives them there is cumulative, and devastating. They are at far higher risk for rape (esp. for women) and addiction and also more prone to developing all kinds of physical illnesses; their lives are shortened; their relationships are affected; none of this is worth it either for their creative gifts (if they have them) or those of their siblings. Schizophrenic people suffer even worse. Yet this gene continues to be passed down quite commonly (only a percentage of those with the gene develop either schizophrenia or bipolar disorder), because it is also socially advantageous to family members of people with the disease. Nature at its most selfish!

    Anyway…that was another person rant. Thoughts on spiritual belief as a reasonable argument for natalism?

    • Francois Tremblay October 13, 2015 at 19:45

      Unless you’re absolutely sure that your children will share your spiritual beliefs (and how could you be?), I’d say it’s still an imposition on another human being without their consent. And I don’t think it provides much of a defeater for all the other antinatalist arguments, either.

      • unabashedcalabash October 13, 2015 at 20:20

        I think if you were absolutely certain of your spiritual beliefs (like you knew, for sure, it was the case), you might feel justified in having children (in such a spiritual belief the soul “chooses” its next parents and life). But as there is no way to be absolutely certain (of anything, which is why, IMO, agnosticism is the only realistic viewpoint), you’re right. It’s selfish. It’s why I feel so conflicted about having children, even though part of me wants to (and part of that is biological, I’m certain of it; I rebel against the idea of children being my raison d’etre as a woman, and yet when I’m in a relationship I have dreams of having a child. Not getting married, but simply having a child. It must be some inner desire in spite of intellectual reluctance). That doesn’t excuse it of course…having children is kind of the definition of selfishness.

        • Francois Tremblay October 13, 2015 at 20:50

          Well, I still think you shouldn’t have children. If I can convince you not to have children, I’ll repay for all the suffering my existence has inflicted on other human beings. Pleeeeease don’t have childreeeeeeen


          • unabashedcalabash October 13, 2015 at 21:00

            I promise to, at the very least, read up further on the anti-natalist position, and seriously consider it before any decision to have (or not to have) children. In any case I would only have children if I met an intelligent, thoughtful, pro-feminist man who wanted them and was in a loving, mutually satisfying, supportive relationship, and was financially and mentally stable, none of which I think is going to happen. I think me being financially and mentally stable would happen before I met a man who meets my criteria of being a critical thinker who has arrived at many of the same conclusions I have about all the various hierarchies in the world and the cultural brainwashing we undergo. That’s not necessarily necessary–that we agree on everything or even most things–but certainly that he is feminist, yes, and I think that’s hard to come by. (I promise not to have children with any non-feminist men as per my manifesto, even if I stupidly fall in love with one to my own detriment). So I think it’s unlikely it’ll be an issue. But in the event that I do meet someone like this within the next ten years and having children is an option, I promise to seriously, seriously weigh all the pros and cons of having children and to take into account the anti-natalist position which I intellectually (if not emotionally) agree with.

            How about that? :)

            • Francois Tremblay October 13, 2015 at 21:23

              Listen unabashedcalabash, I know where you’re going with this, but I’m already married. I’m really sorry. I’m sure you’ll find someone, though.

              Just kidding. ;)

              • unabashedcalabash October 13, 2015 at 21:27

                Oh, I was not going there at all! Ha ha ha. Or were you really just kidding?

                Oh wait, you must be, because you don’t want kids anyway (which would make it much easier, because then I wouldn’t have to decide at all)! Drat! Too bad… ;)

                But yes, I do promise I will seriously think about it and not make such a decision lightly. Not for a stranger on the internet (no offense) but for myself and my possible unborn child. It’s definitely not a decision to be made lightly, which is part of what makes it such a difficult one (as with all important decisions. But this is perhaps the most important).

                • Francois Tremblay October 13, 2015 at 21:30

                  Yea, I was just kidding.

                  Thank you for considering the issue. That’s all that anyone can ask for, I suppose. I tried to convince a former friend of mine not to have a child, even sent him a copy of Better Never to Have Been, but he still had a child. That was one of my biggest failures.

                • unabashedcalabash October 13, 2015 at 21:49

                  I’ll read Better to Have Never Been, if it’s available online. It’s certainly not your fault, though. I think this is an extremely tough case to make. Even if people intellectually understand it is selfish and even morally wrong to have a child, many still want one (quite strongly), and the culture supports it.

                  In any case, time will tell. And my reluctance to involve myself in the ownership (mutual or otherwise) of relationships and general distrust of men has kept me safe from children thus far! But you never know…

                  I was going to say, shouldn’t people who actually think about these issues be exactly the kind of people having children, to try and change humanity for the better by educating their children well (childism in its purest form, I know)? But then I’d be contradicting myself when I said it’s disgusting to say it’s a good thing to force a form of terrible disability like bipolar disorder on people because sometimes it betters humanity (through creative and intellectual contributions of people afflicted with the disease and their unaffected sibs benefited by the gene). I guess it’s exactly the same thing…you can’t inflict the suffering of living on another in order to bear the cross of humanity (and save humankind from being total shits). So…yeah. I can’t make any sort of rational (non-emotional case) for having children. I’ll definitely consider it, if one day I meet someone pretty nice and get past my inherent distrust of heterosexual relationships.

                  In any case, thanks for the discussion, and the further reading. (And all the thought-provoking pieces on here!). I must be going to sleep. Good night!

                • Francois Tremblay October 13, 2015 at 22:07

                  “I was going to say, shouldn’t people who actually think about these issues be exactly the kind of people having children, to try and change humanity for the better by educating their children well (childism in its purest form, I know)?”

                  You do know antinatalists get those kinds of questions, right? And no, it doesn’t make much sense to tell people who think procreation is wrong that they should procreate in order to propagate the idea that propagation is wrong. I know you meant it in the sense of childism, but there is an extra irony in asking an antinatalist to have children. LOL

                  “So…yeah. I can’t make any sort of rational (non-emotional case) for having children.”

                  I think so too. You could make an emotional case, although I’d say that even in those cases the case is gonna be pretty thin on the ground. Every reason people use to justify procreation can be used to justify a lot of other things (especially adoption).

                • unabashedcalabash October 13, 2015 at 22:15

                  Oh no, I wasn’t talking about you. I was being elitist and talking about people who educate themselves and challenge the status quo and want to find ways to change humanity for the better in general (of course, everyone thinks their ideas are the best though, another reason this doesn’t really work). I wasn’t talking about antinatalists, no! By “these issues” I meant all the other issues you discuss on your blog (I should have been more clear about that).

                  But yes, it’s childist, according to the definition, to have children for the purpose of raising them “right.” Which is why I didn’t try to make the argument.

                  I agree that adoption is just as valid (emotionally) and would do it in a heartbeat. However, they are much stricter about who they give kids to than about who can have their own, and I’m pretty sure no one would ever give me a kid (considering my diagnosed mental illness–yet another reason, in my own words, not to have a child; still, emotionally, obviously, I want one, which, as I said, will make it really hard if I ever meet someone and it suddenly becomes an option).

                  In terms of emotional reasons for other people who qualify/have the money for/time to go through the motions for adoption, certainly all those arguments apply equally, yes. They might just counter with other emotional arguments about it not being the same not having your own biological child. It’s hard to reason logically with emotion.

                • Francois Tremblay October 13, 2015 at 22:22

                  Look, I don’t mean to be insulting or anything, so don’t take it like that, but maybe you should consider that you’re not the best person to raise a child. I certainly am not. I think most people are not.

                • unabashedcalabash October 13, 2015 at 22:30

                  Hmm, well, yes, perhaps. I never said I was. (I think I would be better at it than most people out there not slapped with stigmatizing labels, though; and everyone–everyone–plays the genetic lottery when they have children). But yes, I never said I was; in fact I explicitly said I wasn’t, by my own admission (mostly because I wouldn’t want to risk inflicting the numerous genetic maladies in my family on my children, not because of who I am); but that nevertheless it’s an emotional desire, which will make it difficult for me if I am ever in the place to make a decision about it (which I have very clear criteria for, which don’t involve me being single, in a bad relationship, penniless, or unstable). I think I’d make a better parent than many perhaps because of my slight off-kilter way of looking at things (and I’m sure you know all about the stigma against mental illness as well as the rush to diagnose it), so I don’t think it’s fair if I was in a loving relationship and stable financially and emotionally (which may very well happen) that I would be denied the right to adopt a child. That doesn’t seem all that fair, when there are lots of kids out there who need to be adopted and lots of kids with awful birth parents. So…

                  Anyway, I hope you noticed that I wasn’t talking about you before (or convince an anti-natalist to have children, that would be silly!). As I said, I was simply being elitist; I meant self-educated people that think about all the important issues you write about on your blog.

                • unabashedcalabash October 13, 2015 at 22:49

                  Hmm, well, I can’t seem to get into the chat room (it wants me to download Adobe Flash), and I’m too tired to consider downloading anything right now (also, I feel my grammar rapidly deteriorating, resulting in ever more typos), so it’s probably for the best. It’s been nice chatting. I’ll think about anti-natalism, certainly, especially if ever I have to make a decision about having children. But adopting? I’d love to, and as I said, it’s pretty unfair I’m not allowed to because of some arbitrary label, even if I were to one day have all the other markers of success and have been more than just fully functioning for a long while!

                  I know you said “no offense,” and I’m trying not to take any; but you know, this disorder doesn’t define who I am, and wouldn’t necessarily make me a bad mom. I take your point that you don’t think you’d make the best parent either (like a lot of people), but maybe you’d be better than a lot of others, and certainly many children need adopting!

                  Time for sleep. It’s a sign that chat’s not working and we’ve overrun these threads to the point of exhaustion. :) It’s been nice chatting, and I enjoy your blog!

                • Francois Tremblay October 13, 2015 at 23:02

                  Oh, you don’t have Flash? That’s too bad. Well, if you can download it at some point, you should come by.

                  I’m not sure exactly what would make one a good parent. I wrote an entry about that here:

                  See you later!

  4. unabashedcalabash October 13, 2015 at 19:03

    *personal rant

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