Friday, 29 March 2013

New Abortion Law in North Dakota re: Disabilities Not AboutDisabilities At All

I don't usually blog on the weekends, but a friend brought something to my attention today that's really annoying me. A new abortion law in North Dakota's is the first to prohibit abortion on the basis of the fetus having a genetic "abnormality" (Disability Scoop's word, not mine) detected prenatally or the potential for a genetic abnormality. It's one of three new abortion laws passed  in North Dakota this week that make up the tightest control in America yet over the circumstances under which a woman can have an abortion.

And it's hypocritical nonsense.

"Tell Us What You *Really* Think About the New Abortion Law in North Dakota, Sarah..."

I realize that, to regular readers, this may seem like a very odd stance for me to take on a law that would prohibit abortion on the basis of even the potential of disability. One of this blog's most accessed posts is the one that I wrote on how wrong I thought it was that women who are carrying a fetus with Down's Syndrome often experience pressure from doctors to abort it.

The idea that presence of a disability or the potential for disability is sometimes the deciding factor in whether a woman carries a fetus to term makes me very, very sad. I think that it speaks volumes about not only general attitudes toward disability, but also to a fear that the resources to adequately care for a disabled child simply aren't available (which could be part of the reason why it's difficult to find adoptive homes for the disabled children who end up in the child welfare system).

I've seen how little social support is available, and how the little that is available keeps decreasing as the years pass.  I can understand a fear of not being able to cope with the parenting challenges, especially in families already facing challenges such as poverty.

I do try to (usually) understand even decisions that make me very sad.

And I keep always coming back to my belief that a woman has the right to choose what she wants to with their own body.

So I don't feel like I can judge any women for deciding to abort a fetus with a disability or the potential to develop a disability, as sad as the decision might make me.

But I Judge the Hell out of the Lawmakers that Put this New Abortion Law in North Dakota in Place

Yes, I do. Because I think they're being disingenuous. I truly believe that this new abortion law in North Dakota is merely another effort to control access to abortion, and that they're using the restriction on fetuses with disabilities or the potential to develop disabilities because it's a convenient way to do so. And just as disabled people aren't here to be society's "inspiration", they're not here to be pawns either.

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:

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Work to identify and eliminate ablism within government systems and start discussing how government can help the private sector with the same process.

  • 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.

But I really don't think this new abortion law in North Dakota has to do with disabilities at all, so I'm not going to hold my breath.

Are you?

More about the new abortion law in North Dakota:


  1. I am very conflicted about abortion in general. First, I.'m a man commenting about a woman's right to bodily decision-making and second, well...I'm just conflicted.

    I am not conflicted about selective abortion: Eric Parens and Adrienne Asch (Prenatal Testing and Disability Rights) make this distinction that I believe is quite clear: " ...most abortions reflect a decision not to bring any fetus to term at this time; selective abortions involve a decision not to bring this particular fetus to term because of its traits." Rejection of life because of a potential disability or simply, in other cases. because of gender is too akin to T-4. I guess I also have a hard time with Pre-Implantation Genetic Screening.

  2. Yes, that's a tough one for me, too. Like selective abortion, I get why people choose to do it (given the society that we live in) But part of what makes me sad about it (and also about selective abortion), as I've written about in this blog before, is that there's no way to know whether even a "normal" fetus is going to end up with a disability that drastically alters the course of their life and of those around them...parents may breathe a sigh of relief that a fetus is free of "genetic abnormalities" only to have the child develop a significant disability as early as during delivery because of complications during labour. There are no guarantees (as you know). But society tells us that we should try to prevent disability even at the cost of the infant's life...the other part of it, and the stories of families who cherish their disabled children (no matter what the cause of the disability) get overlooked.

    This story leaves me conflicted as well, because there's a part of me that's glad that selective abortion won't be happening in at least one state. If I could believe that this was actually about disabilities and not another assault on right to choose in a society that's just going to forget that these children exist once they're born...I could get behind this. But the state will make women have these vulnerable babies, and then abandon them all. And for women who are already vulnerable, or part of vulnerable's unacceptable. I just keep coming back to that, and I can't get past it.

    Thank you for your input, Phil. I always like hearing your point of view.

  3. I don't believe in abortion but i do find it ridiculous that lawmakers would prohibit abortion based on the fact that a fetus has a genetic "abnormality".