Friday, 9 December 2011

Abortion, Eugenics, and Big Things like that

I feel a bit icky criticising a pro-choice article in the local media; it's not like there's a lot of them and Richard Boock's written some good stuff lately. I have time for much of 'A Woman's Right to Choose'; not least the unashamed, no apologies, pro-choice stand. But this, this I struggle with:

But to compare pre-natal Down syndrome testing (and associated terminations) with eugenics only reminds us how bat-shit crazy so many of them are.
I doubt the motives of the anti-abortion groups at least as much as Boock does. But issues around pre-natal testing are things we should be discussing. I wouldn't compare them to eugenics (and if it's not clear, I support the right of a woman to have an abortion for any reason) but I also don't see any way we can have a clear discussion about this without referring to eugenics.

Abortion and disability is a really complicated subject. I'm far - oh so far - from having all the answers. But if we characterise such concerns - concerns which have very real importance - as the territory of "bat-shit crazy" (which probably wasn't the best wording under the circumstances) anti-choice advocates we're not only alienating people within or potentially supportive of, pro-choice networks, we're also avoiding an important discussion.


Jeremy said...

Looks like those bat-shit pro-lifers have pulled his article to pieces...

richardb said...

hi anthea - many thanks for your kind comments in the past. sorry if the last blog seemed a bit inflammatory; twas how i was feeling about the issue at the time. will take your thoughts on board. however, i don't resile from rubbishing the notion of eugenics in this debate. there's no compulsion to even take the test, let alone coercion to act on a positive result. i've never heard of a eugenics programme that's based on free and individual choice. my blunt point is that, if we're to believe in a woman's right to terminate a healthy pregnancy, how can we object to the termination of an abnormal one?

anthea said...

Thanks for stopping by. I utterly agree that the reasons the antichoicers are bringing eugenics into the debate are about their own agenda and bear little relation to reality. I don't think I can specifically respond to your point about eugenics without attempting to assert a particular definition of the term, but I know that it's meant to evoke ideas of things which are absolutely not what's going on.

But I do feel one - extreme - part of the devaluing of disabled people has been eugenics programmes. And debates about pre-natal testing generally overlap with discussion that devalues disabled people. And I know that every time I hear someone citing how utterly hard to deal with children with disabilities similar to mine are to deal with, though it doesn't cause me to waver in my pro-choice stand, it feels really problematic and uncomfortable - and that's as someone who is confident in her views on abortion and whose disability can't be screened for (yet). I'm sure we're turning away a lot of people.

There's no disagreement from me that a woman has the right to choose to terminate what you term an abnormal pregnancy, and that she has the right to do so for whatever reason she chooses. But I think we as a society need to be looking at the context in which she makes those choices, the way in which we value children and adults who don't fit our idea of normality, the access and support offered to disabled people and their families.

richardb said...

hey, no fair! you get more words than me! ;) noticed an interesting conversation (in the comments section) a while back between Mike Sullivan of savingdowns and the author of the blog 'autism & oughtisms'. the author is the mother of a 6-yr old autistic boy. felt inspired by her stance. she also moderated her language far better than me... :)

Anonymous said...

The thing that that really bothers me about this to-abort-or-not-to-abort in the case of disability is that there's this expectation on parents (usually mothers) to sacrifice themselves and their lives for The Good Of The Child. The question that never gets asked is what if that parent has disabilities or mental health issues themselves and genuinely CAN'T raise a child that places higher-than-usual demands on the parent?

There's also this implication that aborting disabled foetuses is doing a disservice to grown disabled human beings. IT JUST ISN'T.

Abortion on demand. No apologies. Any reason is a good reason.


anthea said...

LL - I absolutely support the right of anyone to abort a pregnancy for any reason. I also agree that the abortion of what would have been a disabled person is not in itself a disservice to grown disabled people. However, I do feel that many of the arguments to justify that choice DO do a disservice to grown disabled people, rely on misinformation and assumptions of worth. Part of the problem here, of course, is that people are often required to justify their choice.

I also agree that the pregnant person has the right to determine whether they have the resources to raise a child, and to take the particular needs a child may have into account. But that choice is made in the context of an inaccessible society, and I see that inaccessible society as an impediment to choice, just as shitty abortion laws are.

climbingtrees said...

I think this debate has a lot in common with the debate over sex-selective abortion. This is also a difficult one for pro-choicers because, as with abortion for so-called abnormalities, in some instances/societies, it springs from a particular group being devalued -- females, those with Down syndrome. Then we are back to arguing, well, we need to work harder to make sure those groups are NOT devalued. Yes. But what do we do in the meantime about screening and abortion? I personally think that imposing restrictions are not what we should do in the meantime. But I imagine much more could be done in terms of info given at time of screening result that challenges stereotypes and prejudices. Perhaps we can look to what activists who support full reproductive rights are doing to combat sex selective abortion (where this is more common) for some ideas.

Anonymous said...

Re attempting to prevent sex selective abortion while supporting abortion for any reason, you will be delighted to know that several UN agencies have already thought about this and produced a document downloadable from here.
It's called "Preventing gender-biased sex selection
An interagency statement OHCHR, UNFPA, UNICEF, UN Women and WHO"
It will be interesting to see if it works and I look forward to them producing a similar document on preventing eugenic selection. Of course you do realise that some people think that if you can kill a child before birth for certain reasons you can kill (infanticide) or neglect them after birth as well? It already happens.

Anonymous said...

Apologies for the lack of a handle to the above post re the UN document.

Anonymous said...

Just a point on the 90% statistic - it isn't that surprising really, because anyone who takes the test is probably contemplating aborting the fetus if the test is positive, otherwise why take the test? The more interesting statistic is what proportion of people take the test.

- Elley

lauredhel said...

Elley: "The test" is not just for trisomy 21, nor is there only one test. Prenatal diagnosis involves a suite of investiations. The commonest forms of initial testing here ('first trimester screening', a combination of blood tests and ultrasound, plus an 'anatomy scan' at 18-20 weeks) can also diagnose a bunch of other chromosomal atypicalities, neural tube conditions, heart conditions, and so on, as well as certain conditions which may need more monitoring of the pregnancy (like placenta praevia). I opted for testing not necessarily intending to detect and abort any fetus with trisomy 21, but to detect trisomy 18, anencephaly, hydrocephalus, hypoplastic left heart syndrome, and a variety of other conditions which may have led me toward either considering termination or altering my plan and lining up resources in advance.

In addition, pregnant people are not always offered high-quality pre-test counselling at all. On-the-ground counselling ranges from a detailed, unbiased laying out of options, all the way to the writing out of a request form and sending the person on their way. You can't even assume that everyone having prenatal testing done knows what it is for, let alone how the results can be interpreted, what a (poorly-named) 'positive' screening test might mean, or what the next step would be in the case of a 'positive'.

Anonymous said...

Agree, Anthea. I think a lot of the problem is because society forces people to "justify" their abortions. No justification should be necessary.

In my mind there is a massive difference between sex-selective abortion and foetal abnormality testing and abortion.

Favouring one sex over another is symptomatic of certain cultures. Abortion isn't the issue there; the cultural framework that favours one gender over another is the issue.

Foetal abnormality is completely different. Objectively, it requires a lot of resources (money, resilience, patience, strength, physical ability of parents, etc) to raise a child with a disability. It requires a certain level of privilege to be able to do this, which means raising a disabled child is not an automatic "okay" for most people.

Having a child of a particular sex doesn't place the same drain on parental or social resources. The issues are completely separate. To imply it is equivalent raising a girl and raising someone with Down Syndrome - well it's a gross simplification and it's quite offensive.


Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
anthea said...

Anonymous the last - deleted your comment as you have not provided a handle. Though you are not welcome to talk about "deformities" on my posts, with or without a handle.