Abortion and disability just seem to go together. Too many people assume that when disability is identified in the womb, the answer is abortion.
Disability-rights advocates find that argument abhorrent. So do I. But maybe for different reasons.
Disability studies as an academic pursuit is experiencing a huge expansion on colleges and universities across the United States. Some of that expansion is being fueled by the idea that disability should not be confined within a medical model, but should more accurately be described as socially constructed.
For example, under this social theory, a person who is blind cannot see; the severity of the condition can be described in medical terms. The problem comes from how other people behave towards that blind person, limiting his or her ability for educational development, employment and the like. Blindness simply exists; discrimination based on the blindness is socially created. Thus, the disability is not the blindness, but the response of the community to the person who is blind.
Thus, for disability advocates under this theory, if an unborn baby is discovered to have a disability that would lead to blindness, the automatic response should NOT be to abort. Killing a child based solely on the physical characteristic of a disabling condition is inherently a sign of discriminatory attitudes against all people with disabilities.
I find that argument interesting and worth considering.
Not so fast, argues Becky Cox-White, Ph.D., RN and Susanna Flavia Boxall, in their peer-reviewed article, Redefining Disability: Maleficent, Unjust and Inconsistent, in the Journal of Medicine and Philosophy (only the abstract is available online). They argue that it is actually ill-advised to consider disability as a socially-caused phenomena. And then they construct an argument for easy access to abortion.
It was entirely utilitarian in its approach, which I find troubling because it always ends up allowing the strong to dominate the weak.
But it was well presented. In fact, for most of their paper, I found myself needing to think carefully. They were maintaining a level of seriousness and academic integrity that required thoughtfulness if I was to address their central argument directly.
Then they got silly. Not intentionally so, which made it worse. But silly nonetheless.
If any act that devalues impairments must be forbidden, consistency generates implications far beyond the reproductive arena. Good reasons exist for believing that harms would be multiplied rather than diminished, particularly if one considers the implications for preventive care.
And what are these ‘harms would be multiplied’ if one were consistent about not wanting to kill babies with disabilities through abortion?
- “Insofar as prenatal care is encouraged for the purpose of preventing children being born with impairments, logical consistency requires activists to denounce prenatal care as disabling (under the social construct theory of disability).” (Cox-White, p. 569)
- “The disability activist’s argument, taken to its logically consistent conclusion, would preclude vaccines. For vaccines, just as surely as pregnancy terminations, prevent impairments.” (Cox-White, p. 570)
- “Examples could be multiplied: Treat glaucoma to avoid blindness. Treat otitis media to avoid hearing loss. Treat arthritis to avoid immobilization. Treat hypertension to avoid paralyzing strokes. Activists must denounce all these efforts — indeed, much, if not all, preventive health care — as disrespecting persons with impairments and contributing to disability.” (Cox-White, p. 570)
It is really hard not to respond sarcastically here. Pregnancy terminations have not prevented impairments – they have prevented a living human being from being born.
The disability activists’ argument is about NOT KILLING A PERSON because that person has a disability. It does NOT logically follow that one would then also argue against vaccinations which prevent disability. The opposite is true – vaccinations allow more children to live. The additional benefit of not having to live with a disability, which even Cox-White and Boxall freely allow is difficult in this culture, is only available if one is allowed to live.
At least they didn’t try to sugar-coat it as they concluded:
Society’s causal responsibility can be challenged. But even if this responsibility were granted, continuing disability of persons with impairments seems likely: Ensuring less disabling circumstances for those with impairments is likely to cause harm to many others. Because justice requires — absent compelling arguments to the contrary — society to avoid harming all citizens, a society has no in-principle reason to preferentially avoid harming persons with impairments. (Cox-White, p. 571)
They spent 13 pages in a peer-reviewed journal making the case for destroying unborn children with disabilities from a philosophical and practical viewpoint. They dismissed the role of God, the experiences of parents of children with disabilities, and the experiences of people with disabilities as having any value toward dissuading others from aborting their children with disabilities. They placed a high value on people’s ability to predict what kind of life they will have, their children will have, and society will have. Based on no evidence, of course, because none of us can accurately predict our future.
The result from this type of thought: even more children will be aborted simply because they have a disability. And that’s more than just discriminatory against people with disabilities.