Pro-choice: New visions

Part 2 of 2

Read Part 1 here.

When I think about pro-choice, reproductive justice and parenting for people with disabilities, I think about all of the freedoms of choice that we need to get there. I consider all of the choices that many able-bodied individuals take for granted, but are still contested for disability communities. I am trying to reckon with the ways that we are still at the margins of inclusion in the reproductive justice movement, even though that movement’s goals are central to our needs. 

There are more than four million parents with disabilities in the US, yet their positions are precarious due to government intervention. Pacific Standard reports that “nearly one in ten children in the US are at risk of being removed from their home by a child welfare agency simply because their parent has a disability.” These parents often have contact with child welfare systems early, and in turn are at greater risk for future referrals and cases. Furthermore, child welfare systems and the experts they work with often have little knowledge in how to work with disabled parents.

At the heart of the matter is this: our society still holds deep-seated beliefs that disabled people cannot parent adequately, or can only do so with an “able-bodied person to validate the decision for children or sign off on it,” as activist Keah Brown writes in Glamour magazine. Though Brown doesn’t plan to have children, she insightfully connects her concerns to disabled individuals who do. The commonality, of course, is choice.  Anti-violence campaigner Nicole Lee reports that in Australia, things are much the same. For disabled communities, reproductive choice is not uniformly distributed or respected, as Lee experienced first-hand when she received no counseling or after-care during her abortion, but had her capacity as a mother routinely questioned during her second pregnancy.

In 2017, five mothers with intellectual disabilities filed suit against New York City’s Administration for Children’s Services, which had taken their children from them. As I read about the suit, I was struck by one of the plaintiff’s reflections: “I want the workers to know that I really can tend to what I have to do, at my pace. Workers tend to rush things and assume things.” 

In her words I heard echoes of “crip time,” which no able-bodied ACS worker would likely understand. Is pro-choice, then, the freedom to live, and parent, on our time?

I believe the life of lawyer and activist Carrie Ann Lucas exemplifies how interconnected vision of choice are for people with disabilities. Lucas was a disabled woman who worked to protect and expand freedoms for parents with disabilities. She was one of two lawyers in the United States who litigated individual cases to protect disabled parents’ rights. She was also deeply engaged in organized protest (through ADAPT), public policy work and community activism. She was an adoptive parent to four children with disabilities. 

Ultimately, it was a lack of choice that killed Carrie earlier this year. In 2018, her primary insurance plan declined to cover the medication she needed for a lung infection, substituting it with a less effective medication. This caused severe complications, multiple hospitalizations, loss of speech and eventually, her death. 

You can read more about Carrie’s life and work here.

I think choice, and everything it contains--trust, autonomy, equity, interdependence, access--is our most urgent proposition.