Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Pro-Choice and Pro Disability Rights: How Do You Reconcile It?

Firstly, I will state that I'm pro-life. I believe that, as long as cell differentiation has occurred, embryos and fetuses are deserving of the right to life, and that right takes precedence over a woman's right to control her own body. (I'd like to clarify, for people who stereotype pro-lifers, that I am atheist, feminist and quite left-wing in my attitudes. Pro-life doesn't have to mean 'Christian Right'.)

Recently, I got dragged into an abortion debate on a forum. Most of the people there seem to be pro-choice, although I certainly wasn't the only pro-life person there. With the exception of one guy who supported infanticide, most of the pro-choice people were of the opinion that the right to life only applies after you are born.

And while they tossed around many arguments about the rights of the mother, what it finally seemed to boil down to, for most of them, was that embryos and in some cases fetuses lack certain cognitive traits that they felt determined personhood. Traits such as feeling pain, 'consciousness' (however that is defined), feeling emotions, etc.

One thing I jumped on immediately was that those are also traits many already-born people lack - namely, people with certain disabilities, such as insensitivity to pain, 'vegetative state', etc. When I pointed this out to them, I discovered that most of them were just fine with the way Terri Schiavo died - to them, she wasn't a person either.

But I know there are pro-choice disability rights activists. If you are one of them, I have a question for you. How do you reconcile denying certain rights to embryos, while granting them to people in vegetative states?


Blogger Lindsay said...

For me, I do the same weighing as you --- the right of the embryo to live, and to continue developing (at great physical cost to the mother, since she basically has to build the fetus's body out of her own) vs. the right of the mother to control her own body --- and come up with a different answer.

Consciousness doesn't enter into it for me --- as you cannot be compelled to donate organs, or blood, or undergo any other medical procedure to save the life of another born person, so I believe you cannot be forced to gestate an unborn person.

This belief in the importance of bodily autonomy also underlies a lot of my thinking on disability --- I am very, very leery of people making decisions about other people's bodies, because so often people, even people who are intimately connected with a person with disabilities, aren't very good at knowing what that person feels, or wants, or doesn't want.

6:35 PM  
Blogger Lindsay said...

Another disability blogger, Leah Jane, has a post up about this very issue that you might find illuminating, too.

6:37 PM  
Blogger LBC said...

I also tried to answer your question on my blog -

It's a question that's been on my mind for a long time, and your post gave me the courage to try to tackle it. I also referenced your post about it there.



1:53 PM  
Blogger Ravina said...

I got to this page because of two bills introduced in Arizona and Kansas that would allow a physician to withhold information about severe fetal anomalies from patients they think would choose abortion after hearing the results. I only know two women who found out their daughters had severe fetal anomalies and chose to continue the pregnancies: one is a pro-life activist and the other is an abortion provider.

I myself am pro-choice, in part because of how abortion fits into the bigger picture of bodily autonomy. I am reminded of how states have taken pains to ensure that women with disabilities do not reproduce, and how that woman from CRACK pays women using drugs to be sterilized so that they will not produce children with impaired cognitive function. I also think it's insulting that many in the pro-life movement assume that "bad news" at the amnio will lead pro-choice women to abort, when, in the case of both the women I knew, their decisions had nothing to do with politics or faith, but rather what was best for their families.

I'm not sure you will ever find an answer between why an embryo/fetus is different from a person with a disability from the point of view of cognitive function. I am not persuaded that there is an essential difference between born and unborn that is delineated by ability, function, or emotion. For me, the distinction is between whether the being lives outside the womb or not. And even then, that distinction doesn't govern my attitude toward abortion, which I think is what women do - and should be allowed to do - because as long as the fetus lives inside of the womb, it is part of her body and therefore her responsibility.

10:54 AM  

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