Abortion – the word itself smeared with judgement reserved for women – is a debate that keeps rearing its head. Ironically, the debate has a life of its own, turning into a monster that aims to trap, maim and mark those who enter the fray.
Too many think it as simple as pro-choice or pro-life. Too many think it is an issue that only affects pregnant women, and too many people without any stakes in the matter tread on, trampling all in their way.
To make things clear – I agree with abortion. I agree with a woman having the choice to stop a pregnancy if she wishes. I agree with this, because it is only a small step in the removal of monitoring the collective uteri of women as a whole. I agree, in part, because too many women do not yet have the choice whether they will become pregnant on their terms or not. Too many women have others trying to decide for them, trying to dictate the ‘if and when’ of a baby, and very often the ‘what’.
And while I agree with abortion, and access for all women to safe and effective uterine related health care, I don’t want to be asked to justify if I would abort or not. Not only has the debate morphed from if you have or haven’t aborted (I can only assume in a social test aimed at trying to mark the women with some sort of red letter), but now people openly ask others to justify ‘what’ they would abort… however, it depends on ‘what’ type of child this is.
This is where the debate gets ugly.
It is where it puts on its eugenics-lined coat, and struts through people’s conversations demanding justification for the aborting (or not), and this then allows the next question – the one with the societal bias many of us are expected to live with – comes to the fore.
As someone with a disability that affects my midline – my digestive system, my vertebral system, and my uterus – I have always known that I may not be able to have children.
Yet, what hurt the most, was knowing that my choice to have a child – even before I could have decided to abort the foetus – was being monitored. True, there was no weekly meeting asking that I justify my status, but the constant societal discussion regarding disabled women’s choices about reproduction informed me well enough.
When I was in primary school I was aware of a girl one year below me. She had Down’s Syndrome. She also had a hysterectomy – in grade 5. The reason? She wasn’t able to cope with menstruation.
The story itself is horrific enough. That I know this aspect of her story is worse – significantly worse. The girl in question wasn’t even deemed worth the privacy of her own uterus; a uterus that she had no control over, a uterus that was removed under the guise of care because she “couldn’t manage her periods”. I was learning about periods in school. I knew they meant “your body is now ready to have a baby”. I wondered if she knew that she wasn’t going to be able to have a baby, but don’t think I thought much more of the situation. At 11 I had my own issues going on, fortunately one wasn’t “managing my periods”, but that would turn up soon enough. As an adult I realised the more likely sinister motive for the hysterectomy, one that I heard advocated on a number of occasions; that women with an intellectual disability are incapable of looking after a child, nor are they capable of adequately monitoring contraception (the horror of these women having sex palpable), so unwanted babies will abound.
Unwanted by whom?
I endured an adolescence where I was told I would not attract a man; that no man would want to touch me, my physical disability rendering me as lacking the attractiveness needed to invite the touch needed to procreate.
I have been told to be grateful that someone did decide to marry me, that I am more blessed than others because my husband “looked past” the issues; assuming that loving and – shock horror – wanting a disabled person is something that simply can’t be done.
The concept of abortion was so far removed from this debate because (I guess) I would never have been in such a situation. It’s a mindset that too many disabled women have to endure, and the monitoring of uteri begins by making sure we know that our uterus is not sought after to impregnate.
When the disabled woman contemplates pregnancy, or – more egregiously – gets pregnant, a new batch of questions prevail.
What if it has what you have?
Will you abort if you see that it has the same deformities?
Do you think it’s fair to bring a child with … into the world?
Such probing, inconceivable questions don’t seem to be levelled at non-disabled women. We, disabled women, are being asked to justify the ‘what’ of our uteri – what exactly is it we deem appropriate to let grow within our wombs.
As well as being subjected to discussion pro or anti-abortion, we are also expected to politely nod at, and answer, questions about our proposed procreation plans.
The depth of hatred towards the disabled culminates in a sort of anger when it is explained that a child with a disability would not be aborted; the life of the disabled child deemed worthwhile by the disabled mother who herself, lived through the difficulty of growing up disabled. I have been asked, too often, if I would abort if my child had imperforate anus – one of the disabilities I was born with.
What makes someone ask this question? I know they are expecting me to say, “yes”, that I would abort this child, and challenge me to justify my decision if I said no. I know this because they always follow up the initial question with statements regarding the “quality of life” the child will have, and if I really wanted anyone else to go through what I went through as a child.
The ultimate indignity has been in a support group for people who parent children with my disability, as well as those, like me, living with our disabilities. Newly pregnant mothers come and seek advice, asking what to expect in this life; mothering a child with a disability. They seek comfort and reality, they seek news they will prevail in this new life they have found thrust upon them. None of this is the indignity, instead it is when someone comes to ask advice on abortion – if they should abort or not – forgetting completely (or sloppily ignoring) that there are adults in the group who live with this disability, and don’t parent it. Adults who have been asked to justify their existence, their right to success, repeatedly, in the preceding decades.
The indignity was when talk moved to me being asked to justify to a mother why she shouldn’t abort a child like me. As pro-choice as I am, this incensed me.
Do not ask me to justify your choice by belittling my own life experience. Do not expect me to give you counter arguments that ask me to label myself as less worthy of life, as less worthy of opportunity to strive for a place and voice in this world.
As pro-choice as I am, do not assume that I want to explain why it would have been okay for my parents to abort me. The problem with seeking input from the disabled person, is that this person now has a gamut of life experiences to draw upon, often where people in their lives have suggested worthlessness and regret at affording the opportunity of life, so much so that the pain of this memory cradles the answers offered. You can not expect anyone else to tell you if you need to abort or not, and I am not in a position to advocate abortion based solely on the disability of the foetus.
If I were to abort a future pregnancy it would not be because the foetus was diagnosed with imperforate anus, or any of the other six deformities that make up VACTERL. For me, there are more pressing reasons why I might abort, but to base it solely on disability would say that my life has no value because of disability. It would be to say that my disabilities have rendered my life too difficult to find worth, which is not true. I spent so much of my childhood reminding myself that I was more than what people saw, that I had something to offer the world, and that my life was needed. I spent long hours wishing death, but in a defiant dichotomy, wanting life, wanting to prove what I knew deep inside – that I had worth, and my disabilities did not change this.
Our society spends too much time forcing people to justify their existence, too much time monitoring the ways and means women bring new life into this world. It is this that needs to stop; not the advocating of abortions. Society, as a whole, also needs to realise that restricting access to abortions is only part of a wider pattern of reproductive constraint, and until such a time that this constraint is removed from people’s minds – abortion is the least of the issues by far.