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Why Donald Trump's Abortion Views Won't Help People With Disabilities

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Like many — but far from all — people with disabilities, I am deeply dismayed at the behavior of the new President of the United States, Donald Trump. In the few days since he has taken office, his administration has deleted government sites on topics crucial to my identity and life, including disability pages, and proposed several changes that could take away my ability to work and live independently. Frankly, I am terrified. But I’ve also been left wondering: why did so many people with disabilities or whose loved ones have disabilities vote for him, despite his various proposals that could reduce or eliminate services we need?

The answer, of course, is complex. Disability isn’t necessarily the most important factor in determining someone’s vote. We all have other issues we care about; we are more than just our disabilities. But of the disability-related reasons for choosing a candidate, many people who supported Trump have said abortion was at the top of their list.

Although Donald Trump’s views on abortion have shifted dramatically over the years, during the election he made an inflammatory but memorable statement, “You can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb on the ninth month, on the final day.” This is factually incorrect, but it cemented him as a candidate for people who have understandable and valid concerns about abortion due to prenatal diagnosis of a disability. So they voted for him. But here’s what they missed.

Before I go further, let me say this: although I consider myself to be pro-choice, I am appalled by abortions based on disability. I have friends with spina bifida, a condition now frequently cited as a reason for abortion. I know people with Down syndrome whose parents were told by a doctor that they should abort them. These individuals contribute to society; they have jobs and families and friends just like everyone else. Our world is a much better place with them in it. Sometimes it feels like society wants to systematically eradicate them. But I believe banning abortion isn’t the answer. A better answer is to ask ourselves a question: Why?

Why do women have abortions when they find out the fetus has a disability? Sometimes, it’s because of ableism. Our society perpetuates terrible stereotypes about people with disabilities. We are led to believe life with a disability is tragic and lesser than life without one, so a woman may believe her child will never learn to speak, or walk, or read, and therefore won’t live a fulfilling life. She may even believe she is doing the right thing for her baby by not bringing it into the world. Often, the medical professional doesn’t help and can even make things worse. A simple search of The Mighty or the web in general can find numerous stories from parents about doctors outright telling or even pressuring them to have an abortion due to a non-fatal disability. Here, here, and here are a few examples.

Doctors often present an inaccurate, doom-and-gloom picture that doesn’t reflect the actual lives of people with disabilities. As a person with a disability, I learned a long time ago not to unquestioningly accept what I’m told by members of the medical profession. But as a society, we tend to revere doctors, and because they hold our lives in their hands, we believe, or hope, they can do no wrong. So if a woman is told by the doctor that her fetus, the unborn baby she loves and yearns to hold, will have a poor quality of life, she may believe it. And brokenhearted, she may make a decision she might regret if she knew the truth.

People on both sides of the abortion debate agree that abortion should be prevented whenever possible. I would never call abortion an easy decision or one to be made lightly. In cases of disability, it can be an especially tough decision for women with wanted pregnancies because their natural feelings of wanting a child conflict with the information they’re being told about their child’s future life.

So instead of forcing women to continue a pregnancy, why not pass a law requiring doctors give accurate information at the time of a diagnosis, provided by a reputable national organization dedicated to the condition? Why not require that they provide contact information for a local support group or volunteer who has a child with the same disability? Such programs are already in place in many hospitals, and parents who have received support have spoken with appreciation about how much it helped them regain hope and excitement about the birth of their child.

There’s another reason why a woman who previously wanted her child might have an abortion when she finds out about a non-fatal disability. She may have a beloved niece with spina bifida. She may watch every episode of “Born This Way.” But she may also believe she doesn’t have the resources to meet the needs of a child with a disability. She may know she’s a working mother and couldn’t afford to take the extra time off work to care for a child with Down syndrome because the United States has no paid parental leave. She may know her neighbor’s child with dwarfism is on a two-year waiting list to get desperately-needed therapy and other services through the state. She may be afraid of Medicaid block grants that could take away aides to help care for her unborn child with spinal muscular atrophy.

Of course, this kind of thinking is short-sighted, as aborting and “trying again” doesn’t mean someone won’t get a child with a disability next time. There’s no prenatal test for many genetic disorders, not to mention cerebral palsy, autism, childhood accidents, and such. If the idea of a child with a disability is so unbelievably terrible, perhaps it’s time to reconsider having children at all. But the reason disability seems bad isn’t disability itself. It’s because society does not respect people with disabilities or prioritize policies and services to help us achieve equality. That’s what we need to change.

We must create a society that values people with disabilities. This, to me, is where Trump voters got it wrong. Donald Trump claims to care about fetuses with disabilities before they’re born, but his policies put babies and children and adults with disabilities in grave danger after they’re born. Here are just a few examples.

Donald Trump’s plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act would cause millions of families of children with disabilities to lose their insurance and become uninsurable because of the child’s pre-existing condition. Trump’s proposed replacement, high-risk pools, cost far more and have a history of failures and preventable deaths.

Donald Trump’s proposal for Medicaid block grants would likely result in service cuts to those who have more involved and expensive needs, a.k.a. children and adults with disabilities. People who live in the community would be forced into nursing homes, and some would die from inadequate care.

Donald Trump’s choice for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, seems keen to limit special education services, harming children with disabilities and sending more of them down the school-to-prison pipeline.

Donald Trump’s refusal to acknowledge the complexities of police brutality is likely to result in the deaths of more people with disabilities, as 60 to 80 percent of those killed by police have a disability. His attorney general pick’s hardline stance on crime will likely continue the mass incarceration of people with mental illnesses and developmental disabilities for nonviolent crimes, rather than helping them get treatment.

Donald Trump’s disdain for environmental protections could lead to further disasters like what occurred in Flint, with children developing disabilities due to contaminated water and other pollution.

Donald Trump’s apparent eagerness to go to war could result in more soldiers coming home with physical disabilities and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and more homeless veterans who can’t get adequate treatment.

Donald Trump’s history of unchecked sexual harassment encourages tacit approval of the appallingly high rates of domestic violence and sexual assault against women with disabilities.

Donald Trump’s mocking of a disabled reporter and general bullying behavior sets a bad example for our youth about how to treat people who are different.

Are these the actions of an individual who values life? Are all of these ways people with disabilities can, will, and are already being harmed less important than abortion? I don’t believe so. I believe we would value life more if we started treating the lives of people already born with greater respect. I believe very few women would feel they need abortions, for any reason, if they had parental leave and health care including free birth control, if they weren’t abused by their partners or harassed in the workplace, and if they had equal opportunities in life regardless of race, religion, or sexual orientation.

I believe we would all want to see more people with disabilities on this earth if those of us who are already here had a chance to achieve our full potential. We can accomplish so much when our lives outside the womb matter. Donald Trump isn’t going to make that happen. But we still can.

Editor’s note: This story reflects an individual’s experience and is not an endorsement from The Mighty. We believe in sharing a variety of perspectives from our community.

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Originally published: January 25, 2017
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