Last month women marched in Washington DC; in part to maintain their legal right to decide whether people like me should exist.
I will say up front that I think abortion should remain legal in the United States. I know that when it has been made illegal elsewhere, more human beings die. I think that access to birth control should be free and unlimited, and I’m willing to put my money behind it. But sisters please gather round, because we need to have a talk. Some of the arguments I’ve heard presented on behalf of abortion rights are appalling, and you need to understand why.
I’m disabled and I love who I am. I’m an abuse and neglect survivor, and I love who I am. Despite the difficulties I have faced, and will very likely continue to face, I’m grateful for my life.
The most misguided argument in promotion of the right to legal abortion is what I’ll call the freedom from a life of suffering argument. Sometimes it goes something like this: Abortion shouldn’t be restricted because most unwanted children end up horribly abused and neglected, and there aren’t enough homes for all of them! Other times it goes like this: People with medical condition x have very hard lives. A child with medical condition x would be a burden to me and society. I wouldn’t want my child to have a hard life as a person with medical condition x.
Sounds reasonable right? I mean who is going to step up and argue on behalf of child abuse and neglect or its effects on survivors? Who is going to promote leading a life with obstacles around every corner?
But the appeals are neither reasonable nor compassionate. They are dehumanizing and debasing. Just because a child is unwanted by his or her biological parents, she or he is by no means doomed to a childhood filled with abuse. Unwanted does not necessarily equal abused. Conversely, a wanted child is by no means guaranteed a life free from abuse or neglect.
Most importantly, even if a child (wanted or unwanted) does end up experiencing abuse or neglect, it is the right of that human being to decide for herself whether life is worth living as a survivor.
The second manifestation of the freedom from a life of suffering argument serves to promote genocide against people with disabilities. It is common knowledge that pre-born people with genetic markers associated with disabilities are frequently aborted.
My mother liked to remind me throughout the course of my childhood that she could have aborted me. The power granted to her by that statement was palpable. It was visceral. I didn’t have to be here. I was only here because of what she presented as her nearly messianic benevolence.
The very fact that I exist today and advocate for disability rights would not be the case if my mother had chosen to hand over the right sum of money to the right doctor.
My mother allowed the men in her life to abuse me. I was homeless as a teen and resorted to prostitution to survive when I was still a minor child. Would I rather have been humanely relieved of this life so that I never had to endure that suffering?
It took me a good deal of time to recover from the abuse I endured as a child and teen. Years of meditation and reflection finally allowed me to see things as they are and were. Temporary. Transient. Non-defining. Traumatic events were experiences I had lived through. The experiences were not me. They were events in time that had not been instigated by me. I was free to choose how my mind responded to them. I was free to live a life that extended beyond those events.
I was not doomed. I have not perpetuated some mythical “cycle of abuse”. I am a human being who speaks. I am a human being who thinks. I am a human being who loves. I am a human being who matters.
Just because you can’t imagine surviving what I have survived does not make it your moral right to decide for me or anyone else whether they can survive and thrive. Survivors of abuse and people with disabilities are often told horrific things. People say to us, “I’d kill myself if I was deaf/blind/paralyzed…”, “I’d die if that happened to me.” “My autistic child ruined my life.” “My Down syndrome child ruined my marriage.” It is this same mentality that drives people to declare that some children should compassionately be spared the burden of existence, because they may endure challenges that seem unfathomable to some.
That I experience disability, marginalization, and abuse survival does not mean that my life is not worth living. It does not mean that I shouldn’t be here to use my voice. It does not mean that I shouldn’t be here to love and lift up others in my community.
Imagine if a woman stood up and recommended gender selective abortion for female embryos based on the argument that women are statistically more likely to encounter adverse life events like rape and discrimination. How about if a woman recommended euthanasia for females who had been raped based on the argument that females who have been raped will inevitably suffer.
To stay consistent in our reasoning we might then want to consider the forcible sterilization of all women of childbearing age in all war zones across the globe. Because what kind of future could a child born in a war torn environment have?
Do those ideas strike you as reprehensible? I hope they do. They are very analogous to the pro-choice freedom from a life of suffering argument.
Child abuse and neglect need to end. There needs to be more support for survivors. Likewise, people with disabilities need support, as every human being needs support. Nothing about my disability reduces my inherent humanity.
Even though abuse and neglect persist, a person cannot reasonably consider themselves to be moral if they believe they can decide for me that I shouldn’t be here because I am a survivor of crimes perpetrated against me or because I live with disabilities. If women have compassion, then they must recognize that it is not within their moral power to determine whether another human being who poses no threat to them has the right to be on this planet. If my life isn’t a threat to yours, I have just as much a right to be here as you do.
I believe that everyone has the right to be here. Every single one of us. Disabled and able, of different sexual orientations, of different genders, all ethnicities, all religious affiliations, no religious affiliations, and of all nationalities. All of us have a right to exist and a right to self-determination. We have a right to love each other, support each other in our struggles and hold each other accountable for our errors. We have a right to basic necessities like food, water and health care.
I’m not looking to change laws, I’m looking to change the conversation. I think there are some circumstances where abortion is absolutely a moral choice. But the appeal to freedom from a life of suffering argument needs to be examined and discarded, because if lives like mine aren’t respected, then the conversation is in no way liberating, empathetic, pro-woman, or inclusive.