If the state starts withholding abortions, they may start mandating them too, and both scenarios are infinitely worse for disabled people.
Pregnancy is dangerous even for mostly healthy, non-disabled people. According to the CDC, 700 women die a year in the U.S. from pregnancy-related complications; our maternal mortality rate is more than double that of similar high-income countries.
And there are concerns beyond death. The threat of gestational diabetes among other conditions looms large. Even if you do everything “right” or things go “as planned,” pregnancy is not something to take lightly. And this is for perfectly healthy people.
Then imagine you’re not inhabiting a stereotypically healthy body. The risks of being pregnant just increased. Imagine you can’t afford access to quality health care, whether due to the cost or due to lacking reliable transportation. The risks increase there too.
These factors matter because the U.S. has many policies in place that keep disabled people impoverished. Did you know that getting married can cause a disabled person to lose their benefits?
Not only were disabled women at higher risk for pregnancy and delivery-related complications — including preeclampsia (a pregnancy-related hypertensive disorder that could be fatal) and gestational diabetes — they were also more likely to have conditions that can lead to death during childbirth, such as heart attacks, infection and blood clotting.
Those with disabilities were also more likely to have surgical interventions during the birthing process (think C-sections instead of natural deliveries), which could lead to further complications when general medical research and hospital staff have remained ignorant if not outright prejudiced about the specifics of many disabilities.
So for many disabled people, the right to choose whether to remain pregnant is literally a matter of life or death. But there’s more to the issue: What happens when the state becomes the arbiter of who can get an abortion?
The state is saying they hold the keys to this reproductive technology, and if they can deny access, they can certainly force it. Or, how I like to phrase it because it’s a clever riff on some religious language: what the state taketh away, the state may also giveth—if the state starts withholding abortions, they may start mandating them too.
Dr. Flowers offers astute insight: basically, if it’s up to the state to determine who’s eligible for an abortion, that right to decide cuts both ways. And there is a long history of this human rights abuse in the U.S., stemming from the early 1900s interest in eugenics. The 1927 Supreme Court case Buck v. Bell deemed the nonconsensual sterilization of mental health inmates constitutional, in fact.
But that’s all way back when, right? Oh wait, no. It’s still happening today, with over half of U.S. states today allowing for forced sterilization of disabled people.
If you think that this won’t happen to you because you’re not disabled, here’s some bad news: Those of us who are able-bodied are only temporarily so; disability, disease, and death come for us all eventually, and we have no say in when or how these things happen to us.
You may not believe you need to worry about policies that give people the dignity of their own reproductive decisions right now, but your health needs could change in an instant.
And, as disability advocate Imani Barbarin reminds us, invisible disabilities like mental health issues, are often wielded against people to strip them of their agency. If Britney Spears could be controlled by a conservatorship for over a decade, it could (and does) happen to others. What does it take to be classified as “crazy” these days? Could a decision to get an abortion be enough to get someone to question your mental health with an eye toward controlling you? Possibly.
With 25% of the population identifying as disabled, abortion bans—and the underlying logic behind them—will disproportionately hurt a lot of people. Rendering a population already thought of as subhuman by many even more dehumanized sends our country in a terrible direction. We need to speak up, not just for the healthy among us, but for those whose voices remain marginalized thanks to the pervasive ableism of this society.