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.