The Reproductive Rights Movement Must Claim Its Role in True Disability Justice

Reproductive rights demonstration; Black woman in center holds sign saying Reporductive Rights for All

Laurie and Debbie say:

Imani Gandy can be relied upon for clear thinking, thoughtful analysis, and on-target conclusions. Her recent article at Rewire, “It’s Time to Stop Talking About Whether Margaret Sanger Was Racist” is a perfect example. Gandy has been involved in working with Planned Parenthood on Sanger’s support of eugenics for the better part of a decade. This article follows her 2015 analysis of Sanger’s racism. In the older article, she makes this case: “Anti-choicers wield misattributed and often outright false quotes about Sanger as weapons to shame Black women for exercising their right to choose, and even more nonsensically, to shame them for supporting Planned Parenthood.”

Six years later, Planned Parenthood’s president and CEO, Alexis McGill Johnson, has written a New York Times op-ed intended to close the conversation about Sanger’s politics and Planned Parenthood’s racist history. Gandy supports McGill Johnson, approves of the stance, and has her own closing words about this topic: “… ultimately—I don’t really care.”

Instead, Gandy wants the organization to move forward and talk about the right-wing shift into a focus on “protecting” fetuses with disabilities:

I know how anti-choicers operate; I know that some will continue prattling on about Sanger’s nefarious intentions to wipe out Black people. But, frankly, blaming Black women for Black genocide and accusing Planned Parenthood of targeting Black women isn’t as fashionable as it once was.

What is fashionable? Weaponizing people with disabilities.

As Gandy lays out, this shift is based in large part on an opinion Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote when the Court refused a case covering “reason bans,” which are abortion bans based on the reason the pregnant person wants to abort the baby:

[Thomas’s] opinion was a diatribe against Margaret Sanger, and it focused on her eugenicist beliefs in a wildly disingenuous way: His opinion was laser-focused on Sanger’s belief in eugenics and “racial betterment,” and reading his opinion, one might think that Sanger was pushing for Aryan rule the way the Nazis did during the Holocaust.

She wasn’t.

Margaret Sanger wanted poor people and the “insane and feeble-minded” to stop breeding, irrespective of their race; when she talked about “racial betterment,” she meant bettering the human race by sterilizing people with disabilities.

We agree wholeheartedly with Gandy: as Planned Parenthood has confronted its founder’s racism and the ways that have affected the organization over the decades, it now must confront its relationship to ableism and disability justice.

By not confronting the cynicism with which abortion foes are weaponizing people with disabilities in order to march toward a world in which abortion does not exist, we are ceding the argument about what true disability justice looks like to anti-abortion advocates who don’t care about people with disabilities.

Even as the reproductive rights movement makes great strides when it comes to racial justice—as evidenced by McGill Johnson’s op-ed—it is failing when it comes to disability justice. And while I, being non-disabled, certainly am in no position to debate the merits of reason bans from the perspective of a person with disabilities, I can say one thing for sure: Conservatives don’t care about people with disabilities, and they certainly don’t care about people with Down syndrome.

Conservatives, in fact, don’t care about people (with a narrow range of exceptions). They certainly don’t care about familles. Gandy quotes an Ohio mother of a child with Down syndrome:

“Our statehouse is controlled by the Republican Party and has been for many years. The same legislators who voted to outlaw abortion of fetuses with DS [Down syndrome] also voted this past year to remove language that would have increased funding to county DD [developmental disability] boards.”

This is nothing new. Debbie is reminded of a 1973 Malvina Reynolds song, “Rosie Jane“:

When that baby is a child,
It will suffer from neglect,
Be picked upon and pecked,
And run over and wrecked,
And its head will be crowned with the thorn.
But while it’s inside her
It must remain intact,
And it cannot be murdered till it’s born.

Reynolds wasn’t thinking about disability, as much as about poverty, and whether or not an individual parent has the capacity to care for a child, in a country which provides little or no economic or social support to children and their parents, then or now. Gandy, 50 years later, is turning her own laser focus on the ways the right wing weaponizes everything it can use, and how that affects the lived experience of both pregnant people seeking abortion and disabled people of all ages.

In order to protect abortion access for all people, reproductive rights activists need to shift their attention to disability justice. If reproductive rights organizations and advocacy groups don’t meet this moment, abortion foes will continue to weaponize the disability community. That serves no one.

The one thing Gandy doesn’t say in so many words, but we feel sure she would agree with, is that disability justice is important in its own right. Fighting for disability justice is much more than a reproductive rights issue; it is an issue which does (or at least should) matter to every single one of us.

In the middle of the article, Gandy says:

I feel like I have been standing in the middle of a crowded room screaming and no one is listening.

It’s time to listen.

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