Well – just in time for Michigan’s Primary election – disability issues finally made it into the debate.
Although it’s probably in one of the most hijacked and meaningless ways possible. Rick Santorum, the GOP primary presidential candidate is currently ahead in the polls here. But I wonder if his recent comments will turn that.
Earlier this week Sen. Santorum, a far right, socially conservative candidate who doesn’t even believe in birth control, railed against prenatal testing because, in his view, it encourages abortion.
On the surface, this is just an incredibly stupid and incendiary thing to say. First of all, he was not born with a womb and secondly, it’s just one more example of how legal, safe, common medical practices that women engage in regularly are under attack from the far right. Abortion, birth control …. Pre-natal care?! What’s next? Wait, I don’t even want to know.
Santorum went on to explain that when women receive certain prenatal tests, like amniocentesis, they are given the option to abort if genetic variations that cause things like Down syndrome are found. But in his mind the women are feeling pressured to abort. This is where the conversation has a potential to get interesting.
I do find it ethically challenging that certain disabilities are presumed to be “bad enough” that women are expected or encouraged to abort. The encouragement can come by way of friends, family members or their doctors. Of course, there is one important clarification to make: there is no evidence of coerced abortion in these cases.
I can imagine though that when a woman is faced with this difficult decision it can often be a conflicted and even tortured choice. The level of expectation to abort that she faces can reflect how much support she will or will not receive if she chooses to carry to term and raise a child who has a consuming and challenging disability.
To me, this is where the real ethical question lies: Rather than putting all the stress and blame on women who choose or do not choose to abort fetuses with severe disabilities, I think we should think about the society we all create and how well that society supports these women and their children.
We certainly aren’t the worst in the world, but we have a long way to go to be fully inclusive and accepting of disability in this country.
Every time that a person with a disability is made fun of, denied housing, refused a job, given inadequate education, taken advantage of or stuck in a cycle of poverty and low expectations, we have failed to address the problem of access for people with disabilities.
Do I think the solution is to avoid disability as much as possible through abortion? No. Do I think the solution is to keep women from aborting? No. Do I think the solution has anything to do with abortion? Absolutely not.
I think abortion is an effective wedge issue in elections. Women’s health is a handy political football – stirring up emotions and keeping us from talking about real solutions to our very real problems. In the case of Sen. Santorum’s comments on pre-natal care, disability was used as a wedge to the wedge. Many of us pro-choice voters don’t like the idea of aborting based on disability, but if that’s as far as we take the conversation, we are not only playing into political schemes, but we are missing the larger, more important conversation.
Santorum represents a party that:
- doesn’t believe in universal healthcare access
- doesn’t want to fund public education
- doesn’t concern themselves with environmental protection around the globe
- doesn’t concern themselves with human rights abuses around the globe
- doesn’t even always believe in a minimum wage here in the US
So how could this guy, or any of his compatriots, be a moral authority on anything?
How can Sen. Santorum blame women and the medical establishment for choosing abortion when he himself is doing everything he can to destroy opportunities for people, particularly people without resources, before they are even born?
There was no discussion about making this country more livable for people with disabilities and their families.
There was no discussion about programs to educate and support people whatsoever.
Instead, Sen. Santorum suggested, on moral grounds, that we take away access to prenatal testing for women – because we women cannot be trusted to make moral decisions ourselves.
In this debate, the Senator, and hardly anyone else, has ever mentioned the moral responsibility of everyone to create a world where a woman faced with a difficult decision believes her baby can grow up supported and loved by her community – disability or not.
photo credit (Santorum): marcn