In a piece for RH Reality Check last month, Erin Matson highlighted anti-abortion groups’ false advocacy for people with disabilities. As Matson put it, it’s “well past time” for feminists to more robustly utilize a disability rights lens so anti-choicers can’t continue to monopolize the discourse.
It’s true that, for political reasons, we can’t afford for those on the other side to be the only ones talking about this issue. But I’ll go a step further: If we in the pro-choice movement don’t start paying serious attention to the ways in which our own practices contribute to the dehumanization of people with disabilities, we can’t claim to operate under a reproductive justice framework at all.
As Matson wrote, such a framework pushes people at the margins “to the center of analysis and activism.” For the most part, however, the reproductive rights movement has failed to publicly connect insidious abortion legislation with its effects on people with disabilities. In Texas, for instance, abortion advocates have heavily promoted discourse about how HB 2 has affected poor, rural women of color, especially in the Rio Grande Valley. Such rhetoric is certainly legitimate and worthy of attention. However, feminists have said little about how a pregnant person with mobility issues might have a more difficult time reaching their nearest abortion clinic; how a person with a chronic condition may have a more expensive abortion because of medical complications; or how a pregnant person with mental illness might have to choose their medications over their pregnancy. Though these issues have always existed, restrictive abortion legislation like HB 2 exacerbates the situation by closing clinics, thus forcing patients to travel long distances, pay higher costs for their procedure, or both. And the narrative surrounding HB 2 is just one example; when it comes to restrictive laws’ impact on people who need reproductive health care, those with disabilities are repeatedly left out of the picture.
At the same time, the kinds of disability-related rhetoric that have made it into public awareness ultimately do more harm than good. The most common example of the pro-choice movement’s ableism lies in many activists’ decision to call attention to “fetal abnormalities,” particularly when explaining the necessity of legal later abortions. Abortion advocates frequently remind the public that such “abnormalities”—conditions that could manifest as disabilities after a fetus is born—are usually not discovered until the 20-week mark of pregnancy or later.
This strategy attempts to justify later abortions to anti-choicers by trading on the rhetoric that some abortions—of fetuses with “abnormalities”—are inarguably necessary. Rather than reasoning that all abortions should be equally accessible no matter what, many pro-choice advocates lean on the argument that of course people, including anti-choicers, would opt out of having a disabled child if they had the means. Thus, later abortions should be legal.
And this plan often does work. The text of HB 2, Texas’ aforementioned omnibus anti-abortion bill, explains that the 20-week ban does not apply to fetuses “with severe fetal abnormalities.” The fetal abnormality exception has been publicly supported both by Wendy Davis and her gubernatorial opponent Greg Abbott, suggesting, again, that even anti-abortion politicians seem to relax their positions when confronted with the idea of a fetus with severe disabilities.
But I have a problem with the idea that certain fetuses are more available for abortion because of their apparently disabled futures. When people who aren’t usually pro-choice (like most Texas legislators) start making exceptions for fetuses with “abnormalities” in the same way that feminists do, I get nervous. I have to conclude that the rhetorical choice to justify abortion this way sacrifices the humanity of all people with disabilities on the altar of feminism.
The “fetal abnormalities” argument actually does devalue the lives of real people. When we rely on that stance, we’re trading on discourse that says, “No one would want to live if they had disabilities like those,” or “No one would want to take care of children with those kinds of disabilities.” What does that say about the people who are living with disabilities like those? That they should have never been born?
Of course, feminists’ most commonly invoked “fetal abnormalities” are the fatal kinds. And no one should have to carry a non-viable fetus to term if they don’t want to, which is one reason later abortions should always be available. Yet only giving examples of non-viable fetuses as representatives of those with “abnormalities” obscures the breadth of people’s reasons for obtaining later abortions. In a world where the majority of fetuses diagnosed with non-fatal Klinefelter, Turner, and Down Syndromes are terminated, for instance, we can’t afford to pretend that later abortions happen only for reasons that make us feel comfortable.
It would be better to use specific examples, such as, “We need legal later abortions because sometimes fetuses are not viable,” or “We need legal later abortions because people get medical diagnoses without the resources to make sense of them,” rather than, “We need later abortions because sometimes fetuses are abnormal.” The latter is just too broad for its impact to be anything but dangerous.
By marginalizing people who are already excluded by systems of able-bodied privilege in this way, the feminist movement is working in opposition to a reproductive justice framework. At the same time, as a young, queer, poor mother of color who has experienced disabilities and sometimes still does, I understand the fear of giving birth to a baby with disabilities. It is incredibly difficult to raise children with disabilities in a neoliberal, capitalist society that creates obstructions to accessibility for them and those who support them. I can never condemn anyone who has been in the position of having to make that decision.
So I’m not interested in criticizing individual choices. Rather, I’m calling attention to the (supposedly) feminist discourse that reproduces stereotypes about people with disabilities, in turn reinforcing the barriers to rights they already confront. My focus is on those who shape the debate: media outlets, organizations, corporations, and people who are trying to change the culture around abortion. Because if we’re truly interested in crafting a just movement, we have to stop emphasizing narratives that implicitly encourage the abortions of fetuses with disabilities.
For example, as the president of Fund Texas Choice, a nonprofit organization that funds abortion travel for low-income Texans, I have a responsibility to use words with care. The truth is, I’ve used ableist terminology in fundraising campaigns before. In my experience, donors more frequently contribute to a client’s travel if their story is extreme; buzzwords like “fetal abnormalities” instantly place an abortion story into that category.
Lately, though, I’ve realized that making the money flow more quickly in this way isn’t just unethical—it’s a bad long-term strategy. Promoting “compelling” stories only hurts our ability to fight for the “boring” ones, too: the people who need abortions because they just don’t want to carry a fetus, give birth to a baby, or raise a child. As Merritt Tierce reminds us in the New York Times, “We have to stop categorizing abortions as justified or unjustified.”
By contributing to society’s hunger for a “compelling” abortion story, we’re reinforcing the idea that abortion is an exceptional right, not a human right, and that only certain kinds of “undesirable” pregnancies fit into that exception.
When it comes to justifying the legal necessity of later abortions, we should shift our focus to the other dangers of outlawing those procedures. For example, the high cost of abortions, especially when compounded by travel expenses, can mean that it takes time for a person living in poverty to save up enough money for the procedure. Of course, by the time they have amassed that money, they’re several more weeks along, and their procedure costs even more. Emphasizing this narrative brings attention to the difficulties of abortion access for poor people in a country that has expressly prohibited, via the Hyde Amendment, the expenditure of federal funds such as Medicaid for abortion. This new focus sets the stage for anti-Hyde Amendment activism. In other words, intentionally not talking about fetuses with disabilities is strategic, beneficial, and powerful.
Another way feminism can do better at centering a variety of needs is by supporting the leadership of people with disabilities. Having diverse people in charge means that ableist rhetoric will be more easily spotted, public events will become more accessible by necessity, and disability rights issues will become more intensely integrated into our reproductive rights work overall.
In addition, we also need to actively educate ourselves on disability rights issues and boost campaigns started by those within the community. For example, in the wake of the #SolidarityIsForTheAbleBodied movement, the lesson feminists should have learned is that being more attentive to the intersections between disability and race, class, sexuality, and gender requires work. Rather than expecting people with disabilities to do the educating on demand, it’s time for abled people in the pro-choice movement to start reading.
All I ask is that feminists acknowledge the systemic pressures felt by pregnant people whose fetuses have been diagnosed with a disability. I want to open up space for individuals to come forward and talk about their abortions without censorship. But if we don’t encourage a variety of narratives, we are contributing to the idea that certain abortions are justified and others aren’t. Until feminists begin to openly recognize and work against this argument, people with disabilities and those who care about them will continue to be alienated by pro-choice rhetoric. If feminists are going to claim to use a reproductive justice lens, we had better stop marginalizing the very people whose lives we’re claiming to save.
The post How the Pro-Choice Movement Excludes People With Disabilities appeared first on RH Reality Check.
Missouri state employees will now be able to enroll their same-sex spouses in the state’s health-care program after a ruling by a judge this month.
Jackson County Circuit Judge J. Dale Youngs ruled on October 3 that Missouri must recognize same-sex marriages sanctioned by other states despite the Missouri Constitution only recognizing marriage as between one man and one woman.
Attorney General Chris Koster said that the state will not appeal the ruling.
“At a time when Missouri is competing to attract the nation’s premier businesses and most talented employees, we should not demand that certain individuals surrender their marriage licenses in order to live and work among us. Missouri’s future will be one of inclusion, not exclusion,” Koster said in a statement released after the ruling.
The Missouri Consolidated Health Care Plan (MCHCP) announced after the ruling that it will now accept the enrollment of same-sex spouses with a valid marriage certificate.
The MCHCP provides nearly 100,000 state employees and retirees of most state agencies and other public entities.
There has been no indication as to how many same-sex spouses may enroll, but the MCHCP has already received inquiries from employees, reports the Kansas City Star.
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Tennessee residents on Election Day will decide whether or not state lawmakers will have the power to enact, amend, or repeal state laws regulating abortion. Supporters and opponents of Amendment 1 have campaigned for a year, and in less than two weeks, a debate that has raged for a decade and a half will finally be decided.
If passed, the measure would amend the state constitution to include language that says “nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion.”
The amendment would also allow state lawmakers to “enact, amend, or repeal statutes regarding abortion.”
The Tennessee constitution provides more explicit protections for abortion rights than the U.S. Constitution. A Tennessee Supreme Court decision in 2000 found that a law requiring women seeking abortions to receive state-mandated counseling and complete a two-day waiting period was unconstitutional. The court ruling found that a “woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy is a vital part of the right to privacy guaranteed by the Tennessee Constitution.”
The campaign to amend the state’s constitution began soon after after the 2000 court ruling. “Immediately anti-abortion members of the general assembly and anti-abortion groups in the state started this process to try and amend the constitution,” Jeff Teague, executive director of Planned Parenthood Middle and East Tennessee, told RH Reality Check in an interview.
Teague said that if the amendment passes in November, it would allow state lawmakers to pass laws similar to those in other states that have systematically cracked down on abortion rights. “It would allow anti-abortion members of the General Assembly to pass the same draconian, unnecessary, burdensome restrictions that they’ve passed in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama,” he said.
The state legislature passed the language of Amendment 1 in 2010, but it was not placed on the ballot until 2014 because it had been passed too late to be included on the 2010 gubernatorial election ballot.
Coalitions have formed to both support and oppose the amendment, with “Yes on 1″ and “Vote No On One Tennessee” being the most prominent.
Supporters of the amendment may have a steep hill to climb in convincing enough Tennesseans to vote for the measure.
A public opinion survey conducted in May by Vanderbilt University found that 71 percent of registered voters opposed giving lawmakers new authority to regulate abortion.
During a forum Tuesday, speakers, including Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Dr. Steve Hammond, and singer-songwriter Jennifer Hicks, spoke to an audience, offering factually dubious information and anti-choice talking points, saying that the amendment’s purpose was not to ban abortion but about giving women more choices.
Hicks, a spokesperson for Tennessee Right to Life and the Yes on 1 campaign, told the audience that if the amendment is passed, the state could impose the informed consent law and mandatory waiting period. “They [women] would have an opportunity to consider all the information during that waiting period and make a real choice,” Hicks said.
The amendment has created sharp divides among the state’s religious community. It is a violation of federal law for religious leaders to endorse candidates, but there is no such law prohibiting from them taking positions on ballot initiatives.
Opponents of the amendment have raised more than $1.5 million, compared to some $631,000 raised by supporters.
The state’s three Catholic diocese have voiced support for the amendment, as has the Tennessee Baptist Convention. Churches are holding special services, during which informational pamphlets that are supportive of the amendment are disseminated.
“Amendment 1 is about sensibility and balance,” said Frank Lewis, pastor at First Baptist Nashville, as reported by the Tennessean.
Meanwhile, a coalition of religious leaders from multiple faiths have joined to oppose the amendment. Earlier this month a group of two dozen faith leaders in Memphis denounced the amendment as “a flawed and dangerous initiative.”
Another group of faith leaders in Nashville held a press conference Tuesday announcing their opposition to the anti-choice amendment.
“I stand here today in the power and love God gives me to say no to Amendment 1, to say I believe in a God who cares about our bodies, our decisions, and our lives, and who gives us the freedom to say no when our bodies, our decisions and our lives are under attack,” the Rev. Claire McKeever-Burgett said during a press conference.
Image: LaKirr / Shutterstock.com
The post Tennessee Ballot Initiative Could Open Floodgates for Anti-Choice Measures appeared first on RH Reality Check.
A Kansas Senate debate on Wednesday between pro-choice independent Greg Orman and anti-choice Republican Sen. Pat Roberts featured a heated exchange about abortion.
Orman, who could unseat the long-serving incumbent Roberts, has been called a “political enigma.” It’s unclear whether he would caucus with Democrats or Republicans in the Senate if elected, though many of his policy stances are not in line with current GOP views.
His position on abortion rights, however, is clear.
“I trust that the women of Kansas are smart and they can make decisions on their own about their own reproductive health,” Orman said in response to a debate question about whether the state’s forced ultrasounds should be implemented nationwide.
When asked in a follow-up question whether he is pro-choice or “pro-life,” Orman answered, “pro-choice,” without hesitation or qualification.
He later pointed out that Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts called abortion “settled law” during his confirmation hearing, and that America needs to move on and discuss other critical issues.
“I think we spend a whole lot of time in this country talking about this issue, and we have spent a whole lot of time over the last couple of decades talking about it and I think it prevents us from talking about other important issues,” Orman said.
Sen. Roberts, in an emotional response, called Orman’s remarks “unconscionable.” He took issue with the idea that lawmakers should “get past” the abortion discussion.
“Get past the rights of the unborn?” he said.
“Well, it isn’t settled law, because we had a great fight over Hobby Lobby, didn’t we?” Roberts said. “And the rights of individual business people to say that, ‘I’m sorry, we’re not going to accept Obamacare because it strikes at our religious beliefs,’ and Hobby Lobby won.”
A national Tea Party group is scheduled to hold a news conference with Sen. Roberts on Monday, but leaders did not say whether the group would endorse Roberts.
“It will be an announcement,” Tea Party Express Executive Director Taylor Budowich told the Wichita Eagle in an interview.
A Tea Party Express endorsement of Roberts would be noteworthy, since the group had earlier thrown its weight behind Roberts’ primary challenger, Milton Wolf, who had attacked the longtime Kansas senator for voting to raise the debt ceiling, supporting Congressional earmarks, and endorsing former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, a former Kansas governor.
The Tea Party-backed Wolf, a doctor, found himself in hot political water during the Republican primary election when it was revealed that he had posted his patients’ X-rays on Facebook with mocking commentary.
Wolf came far closer than expected to beating Roberts in a bruising campaign that, like many races this year, pitted an insurgent Tea Party candidate against a supposedly “establishment” Republican incumbent whose views are just as staunchly conservative as the challenger’s, especially on choice issues.
Orman, who had a comfortable lead in early September, was slightly ahead of Roberts in a poll by Public Policy Polling released Monday. The Kansas race is one of several that could determine whether or not Republicans take over the U.S. Senate in November.
Image: Ace Jackalope/Youtube
The post In Kansas Debate, Roberts Says Calling Abortion Rights ‘Settled Law’ is ‘Unconscionable’ appeared first on RH Reality Check.
A New Hampshire Republican state lawmaker wrote in a blog post last week that U.S. Rep. Ann McLane Kuster (D-NH) will lose her re-election bid because she is “ugly as sin” and facing off against a more attractive Republican opponent.
Ann McLane Kuster is the first woman to represent New Hampshire’s 2nd District in Congress.
State Rep. Steve Vaillancourt (R) wrote in NH Insider a long post about how “looks matter in politics,” and so Kuster, who was first elected in 2012, will surely lose to her GOP opponent, Marilinda Garcia, who he says is “truly attractive.”
“Let’s be honest,” he wrote. “Does anyone not believe that Congressman Annie Kuster is as ugly as sin? And I hope I haven’t offended sin.”
Vaillancourt went on to say that Kuster “looks more like a drag queen than most men in drag,” and that he’s “sad to say, but the drag queens are more attractive than Annie Kuster … not that there’s anything wrong with that.” He added that even though Garcia is good looking, she’s not “so drop dead gorgeous as to intimidate those watching.”
For her part, Garcia this week released a statement saying Vaillancourt’s comments are “sexist” and “have absolutely no place in political discourse.”
“Both Rep. Kuster and I have experienced this unfortunate reality of being a woman in politics,” she wrote. “I hope that as time moves forward and more female candidates run for political office around the country, people will focus on the content of our ideas rather than what we wear and how we look.”
The post GOP Lawmaker: Congresswoman Will Lose Re-Election Because She Is ‘Ugly as Sin’ appeared first on RH Reality Check.
The Pennsylvania state legislature Thursday morning passed a bill to protect victims of domestic violence from home eviction after calling the police for emergency help. The legislation passed without the unrelated anti-gun control amendment that Republican lawmakers had tacked on at the last minute.
The Pennsylvania legislature did still pass the gun amendment, attaching it to a bill about metal theft.
As RH Reality Check reported Wednesday, state Republicans were moving to add an anti-gun control measure to the bill, HB 1796, that was unrelated to the bill. HB 1796, introduced last October and passed by the legislature Thursday morning, will prohibit landlords from evicting domestic violence victims under the state nuisance ordinance, which allows landlords to evict residents who attract law enforcement to the property.
This week, state lawmakers had said they would be adding an NRA-backed amendment to the bill giving people and membership groups like the NRA the legal standing to sue Pennsylvania cities for enacting gun control legislation that is more stringent than the state’s.
Pennsylvania lawmakers Thursday announced that, due to pressure from constituents, they would be moving forward with the domestic violence protection legislation without the gun amendment.
A second unrelated amendment meant to prohibit municipalities from enacting employment leave legislation was also removed and will be taken up next year. HB 1796 was passed by the senate Thursday morning and will move to the governor’s desk for signature.
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