Sunday, 3 July 2011

Disabilities Work and Abortion: A Philosophical Question

Every now and then...not often anymore, but every now and then…a philosophical question related to the work I do with people with disabilities comes up, and I simply don’t have an answer. I’m going to talk about a question today that I didn’t know the answer to until I wrote this post. I started writing this post on Saturday.

A Tough Question for Me As a Worker in the Disabilities Field

 This post is a difficult one for me. I’d had the question that I want to discuss in  mind for a long time, but kept it on the edges; letting it in any further had to  potential to shake things up for me too much. But when I saw it being  discussed in another blog about disabilities,   (  and finally knew I  wasn’t the only one asking it, I began to think about it a little bit.

And then, last night’s “Law and Order: SVU” was about a woman in a coma who was found to be pregnant.

I won’t ruin the ending for those who haven’t seen it, but I *will* say that the young woman wasn’t raped, but artificially inseminated, and that her doctor attempted to abort the unborn child (using that terminology for a reason) without anyone’s consent. I found both acts unconscionable, and grim reminders of the days in Canada and the US when they used to sterilize women with intellectual disabilities without their consent (and a reminder that this still goes on in some countries).

But I didn’t think much about the unborn child that was nearly aborted.

No Easy Answer

I’ve been pro-choice since I was about seventeen years old, and those convictions have grown stronger with each year. And I absolutely don’t know how to explain why I’d put the rights of a woman on life support in a coma over the rights of an unborn child (normally I’d say “foetus”, but I’m deliberately trying to use a phrase that more evokes “personhood” for the purpose of this exercise.)

I don’t know why, if I had to choose between fighting for the rights of a person with profound disabilities who couldn't live without direct support to meet his or her basic needs and doesn’t communicate in any traditional way, and the rights of an unborn child (who is essentially in the same boat) I’d choose to fight for the former first.

I don’t know why the idea of an unborn child being aborted because it has disabilities saddens me, but I’ll still defend the mother’s right to do so until…probably the day I die.

Some Guesses

I think it all comes down to two things: 1) I don’t believe that babies are babies until they’re out of the womb. I didn’t realize that I believed this until I wrote this post, and it’s a surprise even to me to discover this about myself. 2) I chose a long time ago that I wanted to work with people with disabilities and see if I could make a difference in the world that way. Whether it’s because of aptitude, experience, or a combination of both, in a given situation my mind zeros in on “What are the disability-related issues and what needs to be done?”

I see the other issues too, but I give what I can where I’m best equipped to give it. I think that’s really all we can ask of each other.

This feels unfinished, but I’m not sure what else to say. Thanks for listening.

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