December 6, 2016

Proposed law about abortion restrictions, not disability rights

In its latest debate over abortion restrictions, Missouri’s Republicans are once again striving to find a loophole in the Roe v. Wade case that will allow them to impede a few more women’s right to choose. This time, they have chosen disability rights as the site of their feigned concern.

The Missouri state senate heard testimony on Tuesday in support of a bill that would ban Missourians from seeking an abortion on the basis of a prenatal diagnosis of Down’s Syndrome.

“Ending someone’s life just because they are different or may have Down’s Syndrome is discrimination,” said the bill’s sponsor, Republican David Sater from Cassville, MO, according to the Associated Press.

Although Sater found at least one parent of a child with Down’s Syndrome to testify the law would be a positive change, observers of this testimony should not be fooled into thinking its champions are heroic disability rights supporters.

One supporter, Samuel Lee, told the Associated Press he saw the bill as a protection against discrimination rather than an abortion restriction. This seems like an improbable assertion, since Lee is the president of the anti-abortion lobbying organization Campaign Life Missouri.

Sater, the author of the bill, has no particular record of advocating for disability rights. However, according to Missouri Right to Life, he does have a 100 percent record of voting in accordance with their anti-abortion positions.

It is not difficult to imagine how this bill could be an obstacle for someone seeking an abortion. Would a woman be required to prove, after receiving a diagnosis of Down’s Syndrome for her fetus and later deciding to terminate the pregnancy, the two facts were unrelated? How would that be possible? What if a blood test in the first trimester indicates there is a chance the fetus may have Down’s Syndrome? Is this assumed as the reason for seeking an abortion if the probability is over 50 percent, or if the test cannot rule it out?

This kind of legislation could lead to a future in which pregnant women who are torn between the two undesirable options of having a child in difficult circumstances or seeking an abortion are afraid to have any kind of medical test, fearing the results might lead to the choice of abortion being labelled “discrimination.” Instead of being able to make a choice about their future with all the information available to them, they would have to make sure they did not know things about their own pregnancies which could be seen as incriminating.

Missouri also requires women to wait 72 hours between seeking an abortion and having the procedure, as well as only allowing doctors with admitting privileges at a nearby hospital to perform them.

These restrictions have limited the number of places in Missouri where abortions can actually be obtained to one, according to The Guardian; a Planned Parenthood in St. Louis. That is no coincidence; it is the result of anti-abortion activists pushing for whatever policy they can plausibly disguise as practical, rather than ideological.

There will always be a reason to chip away further and further at the constitutionally protected right to abortion, in the name of a cause that can be construed as positive. The advocates of these laws are well aware of what larger purposes they are serving, and the rest of us should be as well.

The question of whether it is morally permissible to have an abortion on the basis of a disability diagnosis is a difficult one, but it is a question for philosophical, not political, debate. The Supreme Court ruled in 1973 that women had a right to legal abortion. They did not say that right only applied if their local politicians agreed with their reasons.

We should not allow Missouri’s ideologues to push through a policy that is motivated not by concern for the rights of disabled people, but by a desire to restrict the choices of women.

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