|More on the backstory of this photo here|
[Today’s guest post by Rebecca Stapleford is part of our paid blogging program.]
Recently, certain disabled pro-choicers have started to protest the ableist language and ableist assumptions about a disabled person’s quality of life used by the pro-choice movement in order to promote late-term abortion. Lenzi Sheible, a disabled woman writing for RH Reality Check, points out that such assumptions hurt disabled people who are already born, saying that:
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?
While Sheible realizes that the ableism present in the pro-choice movement manifests itself in ableist beliefs about disabled people who are already born and alienates potential disabled supporters of the pro-choice movement, she fails to realize that the ideological structure that the pro-choice movement relies upon is inherently ableist.
The pro-choice movement insists that the unborn are not persons, for a myriad of reasons. However, all of these reasons are based on functionalism, which is the belief that what you are currently able to do is what makes you a person, not who you are. For instance, some pro-choicers will insist that the ability to have rational thought is what makes you a person. Now let’s completely set aside the fact that this would make infants non-persons, since they are not yet capable of rational thought, and let’s focus on the functionalism inherit in such a statement. It presumes that what makes us all equally human and equally deserving of human rights is the ability to think on a certain level, and excludes from the definition of a human person those who cannot. It is no different than saying that in order to be a human person, one should be able to produce insulin, and that therefore diabetics are not human persons. It should be obvious by now that functionalism is merely a certain form of ableism.
Often, the ableist reasons given for denying personhood to fetuses and embryos would also deny personhood to disabled or temporarily impaired human beings that are already born, if abortion supporters were logically consistent. For instance, a more common reason given for excluding the unborn from personhood is that fact that they cannot survive on their own. However, not only does this rhetoric degrade dignity of those who need constant assistance from others in order to survive, it also would deny personhood to a conjoined twin like Anastasia Dogaru, who cannot be separated from her twin Tatiana and who depends on Tatiana’s kidneys in order to survive. Another common reason given for excluding the unborn from personhood is the fact that they lack consciousness. However, if taken consistently, such logic would exclude a temporarily comatose patient from personhood, since a comatose person has brain damage that prevents consciousness. Even such a seemingly minimal requirement as sentience, which is defined as either the quality or state of being sentient; consciousness or feeling as distinguished from perception or thought, probably excludes most temporarily comatose patients, since they lack all awareness of their environment, lack the ability to respond to even the most painful stimuli, and many recovered coma patients say that they felt nothing at all while in a comatose state. Even saying that it is enough to have been conscious previously in order to be considered a person excludes an infant born in even a temporarily comatose state.
The entire ideology of the disability rights movement is based respecting the humanity and the rights of all people, regardless of level of functionality. Those who need extra assistance in order to survive and to have a good life have the right to that assistance, even if that means that extra effort must be taken to ensure that a public space is accessible or that a disabled person has access to the care that they need. Indeed, some disability rights activists, such as myself, would say that a person like Anastasia Dogaru not only has a right to care, but also the right not to be forced to undergo a lethal separation surgery by a person like her sister Tatiana, whose body she depends upon for survival. This contradicts sharply with the ideology of the pro-choice movement, which holds that only certain human organisms who have already achieved a certain level of functionality can be considered human persons who are entitled to the basic human right not to have their bodily autonomy violated by being dismembered or poisoned. True opposition to all forms of ableism means opposing the functionalism used to justify denying the humanity of the unborn,
and embracing the unborn’s right to life and to care.