by Ki’tay Davidson
There has been a recent public outcry after a White lesbian family initiated a “wrongful birth” lawsuit against an Ohio sperm bank. The family was dismayed to birth a half-Black child after they had specifically requested a White donor because of their racist family and living in an “all-white” neighborhood. Okay. Yes, that’s a lot. I won’t even begin naming all of my issues with this. Rather, I want to talk about the real and pervasive reality of unnoticed and unchecked ableism in our communities. Wrongful birth lawsuits have justified the devaluing of and violence against disabled lives for decades, so why are all my friends just getting upset about the concept now that it’s based on race?
In 1978 Dolores Becker sued her doctor for emotional anguish and financial damages after the birth of her child with Down Syndrome. She claimed her doctor failed to inform her of the “substantially higher risk of birthing a child with a developmental disability if one is impregnated after the age of 35.” In 2013, a family received 50 million dollars following a successful wrongful birth lawsuit that stated the birth of their child with multiple disabilities was unwanted and solely occurred due to insufficient medical guidance from their prenatal testing company. These are just two examples. There are many.
In short, under wrongful birth lawsuits, parents are able to sue doctors for botched prenatal testing that fails to inform them that their child may have a disability. Most often, they argue that they were unable to exercise reproductive autonomy with the inaccurate or insufficient information they were provided. In application, this implies and highly suggests the families would have aborted the baby if it were known that the child would have a disability.
This is ableism. This is disabled victim blaming. This is what it looks like to justify the labeling of some lives as worthy and valuable, and others as not. This is an act of dehumanization and violence. And, no, reproductive rights are not the counter-argument. This isn’t about the right to choose to have an abortion, which every woman should have. It’s about deconstructing ableism as the foundation of choices, just as we would deconstruct gender, sexuality or race as a foundation for such a choice.
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The question shouldn’t be: how can we decrease the amount of people with disabilities in society or how can I receive money to pay for my child’s accommodations via a lawsuit? Rather, how do we build an inclusive society that centers self-determination and opportunity through valuing, prioritizing and affirming all ways of existing and experiencing?
There’s no arguing: disability is a genetic variation and part of human diversity. Disabilities will always be an aspect of the human experience. Who can say that they won’t be disabled at some point in their life? You can’t. That said, let’s be clear: ableism is a result of the commodification of the human experience, or capitalism. That is, capitalism has saturated law and society so intensely that it begins to define “functioning” and “whole” by one’s capacity for “economic productivity” (within a system that is already structured to highly benefit those who are resourced, white and male). Notice the correlation between human worth and “wholeness” as defined through strictly capitalist paradigms. Ableism is perpetuating a “normalized” and narrow standard of a valuable human experience; only certain types of functioning, experiencing, producing and living in our society can be esteemed. You and I are worth more than our production. Your body, my body is more than a means to an end. We need to challenge and really talk about who receives dignity and value in society, and to start naming the grotesque nature of ableism. We can and do exist uniquely. Disability is diversity and diversity is beautiful. Does disability have challenges? Ask the person. For me, yes. Am I still worthy of care, dignity and love? Always. Disablement comes from a lack of inclusion, a strict adherence to ‘normalcy’, and the inability to value other types of ways that people move, understand and experience the world.
Too often, people feel wrongful birth lawsuits are justified due to the financial burden of raising a disabled child. How about reforming healthcare, education, housing, etc. to eradicate institutional ableism that creates these financial hardships? 90 percent of fetuses testing positive for Down Syndrome will be aborted in the U.S. Eugenics cannot be our answer to ableism; advancing disability rights and justice should be.
My point? I’m tired of us only caring about disability issues when they intersect with other issues, typically racism or sexism. I’m tired of convincing people to deconstruct ableism in society. It’s astounding to see an uproar about “wrongful birth” due to race, but utter silence and outright justification when it’s due to disability. I want us to understand and name ableism; to act in #DisabilitySolidarity.
Ableism is violence.
Independence is a myth.
Disabled lives are valuable.
Let’s stop overlooking the violence against the disability community. Let’s stop blaming disabled individuals for exclusion because of inaccessibility, and societal oppression rooted in institutional ableism and change ourselves and our cultures. The only way to combat ableism is to name it with the same righteous anger that comes when discussing other forms of oppression. Intersectionality is our liberation.
“The thing that non-disabled folk don’t seem to quite understand about inaccessibility in general is the affective violence it inflicts upon disabled folk. The feeling of not feeling entitled to space whatsoever. It’s the sort of violence, affective, that goes unnamed, unrecognized, unaccounted for. And it is the sort of violence that lingers, attaching itself to the soul. And it is precisely the absence of empathy and genuine concern on the part of non-disabled folk that makes it impossible for disabled folk to FEEL like we deserve to take up space.” – Edward Ndpou
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Love drives Ki’tay. A southside dreamer from the outskirts of Chicago, he believes reforming our communities requires harnessing the power of people and community accountability. Ki’tay curates content for #DisabilitySolidarity, works in the field of social innovation and resides in Los Angeles, California.
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