Abortion is real
Abortion for foetal impairment hadn’t been on my radar as a child. I knew that abortions happened in hospitals all across the world and I knew that I lived life with a disability, but these two realities had never come together.
I still remember the day that all changed for me.
I was born with a a condition called “achondroplasia”, a form of dwarfism that prevents me from being able to convert cartilage to bone, restricting the growth in my arms and legs. On average, 1 in every 27,000 children are diagnosed with achondroplasia.
Realising that babies with a disability, like mine, were aborted in the womb was an awful experience because I found out during a personal development class in school. The teacher had been explaining some of the reasons women may choose to have an abortion, she explained abortion in circumstances where the mother’s health or life was at risk and in the difficult circumstance of rape. Then the teacher began to talk about disability.
I wasn’t prepared for what came next, she turned to me, “Andrew, to use your disability as an example, you may have been aborted”. I stared at her in disbelief. I couldn’t believe that she had used my disability as the example. I was angry and confused, she didn’t know what my life was like, she wasn’t qualified to make a comment like that!
Abortion sends a message
My teacher didn’t mean to offend me, but her comment was deeply damaging because abortion sends a discriminatory message of disability prevention. I left the class believing that I was a second-class citizen, and I couldn’t help wondering if my friends believed that I should have been aborted.
Many who support abortion for reasons of a prenatal diagnosis of disability don’t intend to send a discriminatory message but allowing abortion for reasons of disability, does send a discriminatory message. How can it not?
The Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, in 2019, stated that abortion will be provided in NI, “without perpetuating stereotypes towards persons with disabilities”. However, abortion does perpetuate stereotypes; when I think about abortion for achondroplasia, it makes me feel as though I’m a burden, that I’ve no value and so, shouldn’t exist.
That’s a significantly demoralising message for the disabled community; for me. It takes so much resilience to live with a disability and to advocate for disability rights. Able bodied politicians don’t have to live with the discrimination that abortion causes but I do and if I’m led to believe that I shouldn’t have been born, how can I be expected to fight for a fairer and more equal society? Does a fairer society look like one without me?
What can you do?
You can begin by writing to your MLA’s voicing your opposition to abortion for foetal impairment, but don’t stop there.
Tell good stories about disability. That may not sound very sound effective, but some medical practitioners are feeding prospective parents’ misleading at best, and at worst false information about their child’s disability. Upon the diagnosis of disability in the womb, abortion is too often portrayed as the best course of action as it will spare the child from a life of misery and suffering. Sadly, many parents believe that story.
We must tell the truth about disability. Lives do change forever after the diagnosis of a disability, increased care giving is required and there are many hardships along the way but, in most cases, abortion isn’t the best option. The vast majority of disabilities that are routinely aborted manifest diminished capabilities rather than extreme suffering and from my lived experience, lacking certain abilities doesn’t justify withholding life.
It’s true that whenever I walk, stand or sit for long periods I suffer back pain; I have reduced mobility in my elbows and wrists; I’m not as tall as others. I have to stand on a stool to reach the fridge and the kettle. My school uniform needed to be altered each year and I required a classroom assistant to help me in school.
However, none of these diminished capabilities renders my life as unliveable as is perhaps suggested by and presented by some medical professionals and advocates of disability abortion..
I, just like disability rights campaigner Heidi Crowder, who has Downs syndrome, am very happy with my life. My parents and many parents, who received a diagnosis of disability in the womb are thankful that they didn’t follow the medical advice to abort.
Negative perceptions of and attitudes towards those living with disability are the circle that Northern Ireland’s new law permitting abortion for disability, but without stereotyping and stigmatising, cannot square.
My disability doesn’t affect me anywhere near as much as the stares I receive on the street, the pictures being taken from the passing car, the insults and the abuse that is shouted from crowds of youths in my own town. My disability isn’t the problem, society is the problem! They may not realise it, but campaigners for abortion based on disability perpetuate and contribute to the problem.
Disability is real. Abortion based on disability doesn’t have to be. Let’s tell the truth about disability.