Aunt Perrie lives in Australia. She married in her late 30s and in 1980, when she came here to visit, I got to see her again and meet her husband for the first time. Aunt Perrie comes from a big family, 10 children. For a long while after marriage, she could not conceive. But finally, after five years of trying, she became pregnant. I remember the family being thrilled at the news that she had a healthy baby boy.
Aunt Perrie spoke often about her son. In the course of one conversation during a visit, she mentioned that soon after my little cousin was born, she became pregnant again. I mistakenly thought that she was announcing the coming of her second child.
“I had an abortion,” she abruptly said. “The doctor did an amniocentesis and found that the baby was going to be handicapped.” Her words fell on me like a dagger. She did not want a child similar to me.
I’ve always wondered exactly how my relatives viewed me and my disability, and Aunt Perrie gave me an answer. She did not think a disabled child was worth her while. She dreaded a “life of problems.” No wonder she spoke to me very seldom as I was growing up.
And here I had thought that I was proving to my family, with some measure of success, that life with a disability was good, too. With great sadness, I realized that I lost to abortion the only cousin I would have had who was similar to me.
When I met the disability movement in 1985, I was immediately taken by its progressive ideas about the disability experience and its emerging ideology. I agreed with most of what I heard, except for the movement’s generally pro-choice stand on abortion.
I was warned not even to touch the topic, lest we lose our financial support for ADAPT (American Disabled for Access Power Today) Southern California. I was recently called a Nazi by a fellow disabled activist for expressing my pro-life views in a speech at a National Right-To-Life conference. It is intimidating, but I want to engage in sincere dialogue. In an atmosphere of democracy and free speech, I am entitled to propose a pro-life argument compatible with the disability-rights ideology.
The cornerstone of the disability-rights philosophy is that we people with disabilities are equal to and have the same rights as people without disabilities. We enjoy the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness promised by the Constitution. At protests and demonstrations, we chant that access to transportation, education, attendant care, housing and employment are civil rights. When people violate those rights, when they refuse to acknowledge the inherent equality of us all, we call the violation discrimination. We protest and get arrested to decry this prejudice based on our disabilities.
And yet, when it comes to abortion, this holocaust that is also wiping out our tiny brothers and sisters with disabilities, our movement chooses to remain silent. We have bought the argument, proposed by pro-abortion activists, that we should side with the woman, who claims absolute right to do with her body as she pleases, baby or no baby. Our sentiments are supposedly with her because like her, we suffered from years of oppression from medical doctors telling us what we can and cannot do with our bodies. But this sentimental cry for the “choice” to kill (allegedly for the woman’s benefit) is truly ideologically different from our cry to live with dignity. As a disability-rights activist. I know that when I get arrested in the fight for attendant care or transportation, I am fighting to live; I am not fighting to live at the expense of another.
The movement has also bought the argument that the “line of birth” makes a difference in the abortion debate. This dividing line has created two sets of people, the “born” and the “unborn”. It is murder to kill the one but it is a matter of “choice” to kill the other. Accepting this argument, we have agreed to the creation of yet another minority--the “unborn"--the only minority without a voice of its own. We do not realize that discrimination against them is dangerously similar to the discrimination against us people with disabilities.
Disabilities are physical phenomena. Even mental and emotional disabilities may have physical origins. But isn’t birth also a physical phenomenon? But discrimination based on disability is a crime, whereas discrimination based on birth is a “choice.” The abortion of a disabled baby is dual discrimination--the baby is not only disabled but also not yet “born.”
Unborn babies have great similarities to many of us adults with disabilities. They cannot yet “think,” “see,” “hear,” “speak,” “walk,” “taste” or “touch.” They are thus dependent on and at the total mercy of those who arbitrarily decide to keep them or not. They are an “inconvenience” for nine months and a couple of years thereafter. They intrude into the woman’s lifestyle, plans and preferences. When it comes to disabled babies, it is even deemed “socially irresponsible” to give them birth. Like us, they also are called non-persons. We are the “defectives” and “vegetables”; they are the “anomalies.”
Back to Aunt Perrie. Before she left, she invited me to visit Australia. She said that her city had excellent access for people with disabilities. She assured me that living there would not be a problem. She spoke of ramps, elevators, vans and buses with lifts. There is another country, I thought, that is making things accessible for a future generation of people with disabilities that it does not want to be born. My own little cousin, aborted because she was disabled, was not welcome in her own country, by her own family. I wish I had been there to intercede for her.