Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Told You So

I can't help but feel a little vindicated right now. Remember way back when I suggested that advocacy for disabled fetuses might be used as cover for an anti-abortion agenda? Lots of people seemed to think that I was smoking crack at the time.

Well, all I have to say right now is "How's this for crack smoking?". Maybe its not such a crazy idea after all. And just look at the rhetoric that they're using:

If actual or potential disability is a reason to devalue children before birth, what cruel message does this send to persons with disabilities who are already born?

Would you say to someone in a wheelchair that s/he should never have been born? That’s the message people get when they talk about “gross fetal anomalies.”

Now, as Amanda points out these people aren't genuine disability advocates; they're just opportunists looking to push their own agenda. But the reasoning that they use above is indistinguishable (indeed, some might go so far as to say "identical") to that exhibited by genuine disability advocates in my first post on the subject and the two posts that followed.

Maybe, oh just maybe, I'm right in insisting that its not appropriate to try to limit womens' right to choose in this case? Amanda seems to think so:

The ugly truth is that abortion rights does mean that some people, when they find out their child would be born with a birth defect, would terminate the pregnancy. And while that it truly upsetting, the cure is to educate people on disabilities and remove the stigma so that fewer people feel they have no choice. But stripping women of basic rights is not an answer. Freedom means that people will often make choices that aren’t what many of us would like. Instead of stripping them of their right to make certain choices—like not to have a disabled child—it’s better to persuade than limit a critical freedom.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: When you take the stance that its never OK to abort a fetus with abnormalities you restrict womens' right to choose.

This brings me to a point which I haven't been able to fully articulate to myself until recently. When I asked disability advocates why it wasn't OK to abort disabled fetuses I received a lot of responses similar to the above, that aborting disabled fetuses somehow devalued existing disabled people. I devoted a whole post in the thread just to that specific question, and I think I did a good job of showing that wasn't the case.

What I really think is going on is that disability advocates have another reason for arguing against the abortion of disabled fetuses. You can see it lurking in the background in some of the comments I received, such as this one by Redaspie:

Now, I think this assumption is highly questionable in a world where we have deaf pride, and increasingly autistic pride, with adherents of such movements vehemently opposing *any* attempt to treat, ameliorate or cure something that they see as nothing but a positive.
and this one by Ettina:
I'm an autistic person. I would love to have an autistic child. Since I'm not planning to marry, I have a plan of looking through the personality descriptions some sperm banks give for sperm donors and picking the guy who seems most autistic-like to get sperm from.
There is a well known case of a deaf lesbian couple who got sperm from a man with an autosomal dominant genetic form of deafness so that their children would be deaf.
What to you is a tragic affliction or whatever that should be prevented is to us the kind of people we are, and we value children like us.

There is an increasing belief that various disabled groups (notably the deaf), and the disabled as a whole, form legitimate social communities/cultures. I certainly agree that this is the case, at least to a limited extent; its hard to argue that "deaf culture" isn't real. However, it looks like some disability advocates are taking this fact as part of their initial argument and then going a step further. Their opposition to the abortion of disabled fetuses seems to stem in large part from the notion that such abortions pose a threat to the continuation of those same cultures.

This is also certainly the case; if people continue to abort disabled fetuses there is a distinct possibility that there will cease to be enough disabled people to constitute a viable "disabled culture". But I don't believe that this, by itself, is sufficient reason to restrict womens' right to choose.

Now before someone starts yelling "Genocide!" I'll point out that I've already addressed that argument in my rebuttal to Evonne Acevedo1. This is not genocide; an accusation of genocide must be support by positive acts (mass killing and forced abortion). The hypothetical end of disabled culture projected above would be the result of thousands of uncoerced2 choices and, as such, is in no way illegitimate.

To believe otherwise is to assert that society, as a whole, has a positive duty to ensure the continuation of particular cultures. Though I'm not prepared to get into a long argument on that topic at this time, I'll offer that I disagree with that statement. Rather, I think that society has a negative duty not to interfere with the continuation of cultures i.e. we shouldn't commit genocide, but neither do we have a moral obligation to prevent cultures from dying of "natural causes". If anyone cares I can write a long post on how the presumption of a duty to prevent the extinction of cultures leads to absurd results, but as I've got to go to work now I'll leave that for another day.


1 I'm sorry about the formatting on this and other posts, see this post for details. If anyone really cares let me know and I can go back and add appropriate paragraph breaks.

2 We're all in agreement that people shouldn't be coerced into aborting their babies, regardless of their condition. If you want to argue "institutional coercion" you're going to have to make an open-and-shut case; I generally think that such arguments illegitimately downplay the power of individual will and personal autonomy.

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