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Abortion is a Disability Rights Issue – and Not Just Because of Eugenics

TW: Abortion, eugenics, sexual assault/rape.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last week or so, you’ll have heard about Texas’s bill banning abortion after the sixth week of pregnancy – before most people even know they’re pregnant. If you don’t live on Twitter, though, you may have missed eugenics creeping into the debate.

A tweet from Richard Hanania of the Centre for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology points out that you generally can’t screen for Down’s syndrome before about week 10 (the NHS says you can screen for it and Edwards’ and Patau’s syndrome between weeks 10 and 14), and that lots of those who find out their child may have Down’s choose not to continue with their pregnancies. 

His point appears to be that Texas (and potentially other red states) may see an increase in babies born with Downs, and he also asks if liberals will be happy about governmental spending if costs are increased for this.

He dubbed his thread “interesting things to think about”, but the heavily eugenic-based point wasn’t exactly the progressive ‘gotcha’ he was probably aiming for.

Abortion is very much a disability rights issue, but not for this reason.

Being pregnant can be very hard on the body. I’ve not done it myself, but you only need to ask a group of parents for their horror stories and then you’ll also probably never want to do it.

As someone living in a body which generally malfunctions while I’m not doing something as taxing as growing a human, I don’t want to give it another reason to break down.

This isn’t to say all disabled people think the same. My own mother was disabled when she had me and my brother – something that it was her choice to do.

But her choice was also important when it came to what happened next. She was told that if she carried another pregnancy to term, she’d end up having to use a wheelchair full time – not that there’s anything wrong with that, but she thought it would be a burden felt unfairly by her children.

So she went for sterilisation – which the doctors did try to talk her out of for generally sexist reasons – but she maintains a pro-choice stance for herself and others in relation to abortion too. She says: “The doctor that did my sterilisation did a bunch of others that failed and I was sh*tting myself. I would absolutely have had an abortion.”

We need to factor in treatments here as well. For arthritis, my mum now takes methotrexate – a drug so potentially harmful to a foetus that the pharmacy do everything to avoid cross-contamination and it’s advised “women of childbearing age do not handle it at all” (specific wording from my friend who works in a pharmacy). 

Since the thalidomide scandal, doctors have been very conscious with medication and pregnancy (my medications carry general advisories as obviously research into specific effects wouldn’t pass an ethics committee).

There are a lot of medications that are considered abortifacient (a substance used to induce an abortion or miscarriage) or to cause birth defects.

Disabled people who want to get pregnant face having to weigh up if they are able to stop their medication for a year or more – but imagine finding you’re forced to do so. 

Some among you will now be crying “you’ve got 6 weeks to sort it out”, but let me explain just how little time you actually have.

Pregnancy is counted from the first day of your last menstrual period, so – assuming a 28 day cycle – you’re already 2 weeks pregnant the day that sperm and egg meet.

12-14 days later is when your expected period doesn’t arrive, so you’ve hit 2/3rds of the limit before you even have an inkling you could be pregnant (although you may have had some symptoms sooner).

This also assumes a regular menstrual cycle. If you have PCOS, irregular periods, perimenopause or take a contraceptive pill that stops your periods (like I do) then you’re even less likely to find out so early.

A condition such as endometriosis or side effects of pretty much any medication could mask pregnancy symptoms.

If you’re one of those who thinks “well, close your legs then”, first of all: why are you here? We’re not for you.

But also be aware of the sexual assault epidemic in disabled women – the bill makes no allowances for rape, assault or incest; not that enduring a trauma should be a necessary condition for abortion anyway.

In those of us choosing to have sex (and why shouldn’t we?) pregnancy is not a punishment for this. I can’t believe I still have to say that.

The specific location of this bill is also a disability issue. It is, of course, possible to travel out of state for your abortion – the only option for many Texans now, it seems – the same as Liverpool is a hub for abortions off the ferry from Ireland (less so since repealing the 8th, but Northern Ireland still prohibits abortion). 

Not even allowing for the fact that disabled people are more likely to live in poverty and have less money for travel and potential accommodation – have you tried travelling when disabled?

I generally have to plan rest days if I’m travelling from Liverpool to London – nowhere near the journeys some Texans are facing – and I don’t have the added stress of an abortion on top.

The cost, the strain, and the potential for damage to mobility aids (if someone has to fly) are all factors for disabled people.

Abortion is a disability rights issue – but not for the eugenic reason being floated on Twitter. A judge has blocked suing of Planned Parenthood under the bill for now, but it’s not enough.

We must preserve abortion access for everyone who wants it (and reverse the Texas law if possible), and also specifically for disabled people who want it. 

Places to get information:

Amnesty International Abortion Information

NHS Abortion Information

Planned Parenthood Abortion Information

How to get help with transport and accommodation etc. (please donate if you can):

Fund Texas Choice – for those in Texas 

Abortion Support Network – for those in Ireland, the Isle of Man, Malta, Gibralta and Poland 

If you’ve been a victim of rape or sexual assault:

Rape Crisis (UK)


Rape Crisis Network Europe

International Rape Crisis Information

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