Pro-life campaigners are seeking a repeal of what they call “the discriminatory section” of the 1967 Abortion Act. That’s the bit that allows termination on the grounds of physical disability. Post-Paralympics, their argument goes, we now have to rethink what we mean by “disabled” and “able”.
I am disabled. I believe in equal rights for disabled people. And I am pro-choice on abortion, including abortion on the grounds of disability. These beliefs are not contradictory. I am pro-choice because I accept there are times when a woman may not want or be able to continue with her pregnancy. It is a choice which, luckily, I have not had to consider myself. But I’m glad it’s available to me.
What is unnerving is how pro-lifers use the fear of “eugenics” and the success of the Paralympics to try to engineer a change in the law on abortion. In a letter to a newspaper this week, the ProLife Alliance used the word “eugenics” twice. This is, of course, a way of associating the prevention of disability with Nazism. It is an easy and lazy argument for pro-lifers to make. Want an abortion because the baby would be severely disabled and you couldn’t cope? You’re a Nazi. Want to use prenatal or antenatal testing to avoid passing on inherited conditions? You’re a Nazi. Admit that you can’t bear living as a severely disabled person and want a doctor to help you die surrounded by your loved ones? You’re a Nazi. And a self-hating crip. Disability is more complex than this and we should beware arguments that use such loaded terminology.
We should also keep in mind that some of those pregnant women considering abortion may be disabled themselves. They already know the joys and challenges that being disabled can bring. And they certainly don’t need to be made to feel that they’ve let the side down by contemplating an abortion.
A pregnant women told her unborn child will have a disability should be given appropriate information and counselling so she can make an informed choice. Those who choose to end their pregnancy, and the medical professionals who support them, should not be condemned as Nazis or damned for depriving us of future Paralympic heroes.
Art imitates life, up to a point
The Archers has a storyline in which a couple have been told that their unborn child will have Down’s Syndrome. I’m not going to get too excited. I remember when EastEnders’ Billy Mitchell and his wife Honey had a little girl, Janet, with Down’s Syndrome. I thought how great it would be to see the issue of bringing up a disabled child covered by a “soap”. But, alas, Honey left Walford with Janet and now we only get fleeting glimpses.
Perhaps the producers think the setbacks that typically befall the young of Albert Square – alcoholism, prostitution, teen pregnancy, discovering your sister is actually your mum, sleeping with your boyfriend’s dad, impregnating Heather Trott, murdering Heather Trott – are not suitable for a young girl with Down’s Syndrome.
But I have a little fantasy that, in 15 years’ time, Janet Mitchell will blaze into the Square in a BMW with Jack Branning’s paralysed daughter Penny (who is mentioned in hushed tones about once a year), wind in their hair, fags in their hands, intent on creating havoc.
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