Monday, 15 July 2013

Elsa Henry, Disabled Women, The Abortion Debate, and Texas

A lot happened in America last week that needs to be talked about. But today I think I want to talk about what happened in Texas, and about a brilliant article by Elsa Henry.

To review, legislation that outlaws abortion abortion after 20 weeks and closes all but 6 of the abortion clinics in Texas was pushed through last Friday, after Wendy Davis attempted to stop its passage last month with an 11-hour filibuster and after protests by thousands of women. Considering that the legislation wasn't supported by anywhere near the majority of the Texas populace and it required a special session to get it pushed through, it seems like a slap in democracy's face. Read more here.

Allow me to segue for a moment. I want to talk about disabled women and abortion, and about Elsa Henry.

Elsa Henry, Disabled Women, and the Abortion Debate

Regular readers know that I feel strongly that disabled women need to have a voice in the abortion debate.  There's still a perception out there, particularly when speaking about intellectually disabled women, that they're not sexual beings and don't need (or even shouldn't be given) information about their sexual health. I don't believe that anything is further from the truth. All women should be educated about sexuality and sexual health, at the very least so that they know what abuse is and what they need to do if it happens to them. But, as people who have just as much a right to be involved in sexual relationships as anyone else, disabled women need their sexual education to include information about contraception, sexually transmitted infections, and yes, abortion as an alternative when facing an unwanted pregnancy. They have the right to decide how they feel about that.

It's not like there's never been a disabled women who's needed access to abortion, but you'd never know that by the way that disabled womens' voices are absent from the abortion dialogue. And thank God I'm not the only one who's noticed. A brilliant article by Elsa Henry, "Pro-Choice Should Not Mean Ableist", and the overwhelming response to it when I posted a link to it on my Tumblr blog, gives me some faith that others feel strongly about this.

Elsa Henry and I appear to agree on a number of things (our ideas of how we are both "pro-life" and "pro-choice" being among them), and I'm impressed with how she takes the "pro-choice" camp to task on its assumption that disabled women won't ever be in a position where they'd need an abortion:

"I am tired of the assumptions that I wouldn’t want to be a mother, too. I am tired of the fact that this dialogue has not mentioned once the fact that women with disabilities have the right to have abortions, the rights to access women’s health, the fact that disabled women are raped and impregnated against their will. I am tired of not hearing that women with disabilities need access to reproductive prevention & abortion."

Elsa Henry also brings up another important issue that I hadn't considered. I've seen both the pro-life and pro-choice camps do this, but the fact that the pro-choice camp but uses disabled people as a reason why abortion should exist does put pro-choice disabled women in awfully difficult position, to say the least. I'm surprised that it's never occurred to me to be bothered more by the ableist rhetoric. Elsa Henry makes a strong case for why it should, and I'll certainly be giving it some thought:

"I am a disabled woman. I am pro choice. But every time someone on MY side opens their mouths and tells stories about people aborting their disabled fetuses in order to show why we NEED abortion, I feel sick. I feel betrayed. I feel like my life isn’t worth considering."

Thank you, Elsa Henry, for saying these important things that needed to be said.

Closing Thoughts on Standing with Texas Women

But, getting back to the general issue of Texas. What went on, from Wendy Davis' filibuster to the protests, to Rick Perry's determination to push this thing through, had me riveted. It's another one of those issues that transcends borders for me. I don't care that this has nothing to do with my country; it's a matter of principle, and if I could have joined the women protesting in Texas, I would have. I know that I'm far from the only person in Canada that feels the same way, and we will continue to support any cause that keeps abortion legal and safe for as many women as possible.


  1. Thank you, Liz! That means so much to me that you'd say that. :)

  2. A well written analysis!! I have a great deal of of ambivalence about abortion in general, then I'm a man. I have no acceptance of abortion for reasons based upon disability genetics, sex-selection genetics or pre-implantation genetic selection. Abortion is a woman's right, a specific reason ie disability or sex, crosses a line. We cannot tolerate a world of designer children....