I’ve previously written about the difference between eugenics and pro-choice, and how the thought process that goes into the decision to abort a disabled fetus is both a symptom and a perpetuation of systemic ableism.
What does it mean in practice to oppose eugenics, however? If aborting a fetus on the basis of disability is harmful, how do we address that? Do we make it illegal? Do we restrict a person’s ability to make that decision by eliminating the ability to know in advance whether a child has a disability or not?
How can you oppose eugenics and still remain pro-choice. Isn’t it wrong to shame people who get abortions for the reasons they get abortions?
Let me make it clear. The right to bodily autonomy is such that any restriction, even for the best of intentions, is a violation of bodily autonomy. Regardless why someone is getting an abortion, the ability to do so safely and without barrier is essential. All people should have the right to access an abortion without shaming.
My main problem is not with the people who are choosing to abort an otherwise wanted fetus because of a disability, but rather with the fact that their decision is based on false information. In the same way that I object to lying to women with false medical information in order to trick them into not having an abortion, I object to lying to women to encourage a different outcome on the basis of hateful ideology.
The people who think that it is a moral obligation to eliminate disability by terminating disabled fetuses are basing their opinions on the idea that disability is suffering or inherently wrong. This is true not just of the person making the decision, but of the much greater percentage of the population who advocate this idea. I’ve addressed this idea before and encourage you to read the post before asking me to explain again how it is not. There may be people who are disabled who are miserable and attribute that fact only to their illness, who may wish that they had never been born. The same can be said of abled people however, and the fact that a part of a specific population is miserable does not mean the same can be true of everyone in that population.
By stating unilaterally that disability is misery you are ignoring and silencing the countless of disabled voices saying “Actually no, I love my life.” You are ignoring the voices of disabled people saying that the misery in their lives is most often caused by social barriers or a refusal to honour accommodation needs. You are presenting an ideological perspective that ignores reality.
What’s more, this same ideology is used to cause active harm to living persons, not just fetuses.
Proponents of eugenics are interested in the eradication of disability. The ideology is often used to restrict the choice of disabled persons through sterilization. There have been countless examples of people of varying disabilities being sterilized, including autistic people, people who live in group homes, people who use wheelchairs. Most recently, sterilization is being offered as a “treatment” for non-verbal girls with cerebral palsy, under the guise of improving quality of life. A claim that is difficult to believe in light of the fact that in dramatically increases the rates at which they experience sexual violence.
What should be noted as well, is that sterilization is used in many instances of eugenics, not just those aimed at disabled people. It was and continues to be used both in residential schools in Canada against Native populations, and in the United States war against poor people of colour where female inmates have been found to have been sterilized without their consent.
These people are having their bodily autonomy violated by their parents, by doctors, by organizations, and sometimes by governments themselves, and yet the public outcry is curiously silent.
The claim that disability is misery has been used to excuse the murder of disabled children by their parents. Every year there are countless stories of parents who “just wanted to end their autistic child’s suffering” or who “just couldn’t handle it anymore”. What is often ignore is the fact that there were other options for the parents to abandon their parental responsibilities. Frequently these children were miserable only in the minds of their parents, who decide that happiness means being “abled” and ignore their children’s passions, and interests. Who, even if they don’t murder their children, choose treatments that should be considered torture in the pursuit of some arbitrary idea of normality.
Opposing eugenics isn’t about restricting the rights of people who can get pregnant, but about challenging an ideology that is used to restrict the rights of disabled people. At the point where a woman is facing the decision of whether she is wants to keep her fetus after news of a diagnosis is already too late. While you can discuss the decision with them at that point, a parent who is convinced of the morality of terminating disabled fetuses is probably not best suited to raising a disabled child. In the same way that I wouldn’t want a gay child to be raised by homophobic parents, neither is it beneficial for a disabled child to be raised by parents who think their worth is diminished by their diagnosis.
Restricting access to genetic and health testing in utero is also not the answer. Those tests can be used to discover conditions that can be treated in utero, like a hole in the heart, or a blockage. It can warn the doctor’s and the parents of potential health risks to the parent. It can be used to help the parents get ready to be good parents to their disabled child. Moreover restricting access to healthcare is certainly not the answer.
Challenging eugenics is about challenging the ideas that feed into that ideology. Much like challenging the false ideas that are often used to promote religion, so too it is about addressing where it is based on false assumptions, biases, and outright lies.
My existence is not unethical. Neither is that of my neurodivergent friends and wife, nor of my otherwise disabled chosen family.