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The Intersection of Disability Rights and Reproductive Rights

Intrinsic to both the disability rights and reproductive rights movements is the belief that we are all deserving of fundamental human rights, including self-determination, dignity, access, and equality. Centering disability in reproductive justice activism allows us to engage in nuanced conversations around bodily autonomy, the right to have children, the right not to have children and the right to parent those children in safe and healthy environments. Reproductive justice provides a framework that remains mindful of the unique positionality of disabled folk.

Disability and reproductive rights have long been placed as opposing forces in discussions around reproductive freedom. Anti-abortion activists have worked to sustain this dichotomy between disability and reproductive rights movements by developing harmful rhetoric that shames pregnant people. Selective abortion bans and restrictions often hinge upon fetal anomaly and disability, creating an abortion hierarchy that does not support disabled folks or pregnant people. As countless disability rights and reproductive justice advocates have pointed out, selective abortion bans do nothing to address the very real issues that individuals with disabilities face in their everyday lives while doing everything to undermine the collective right to bodily autonomy. Indeed, in their video series discussing disability rights as a reproductive rights issue, activists and educators Bianca Laureano and Patty Berne share that the two movements intersect at the question of “who gets to have a body that is respected and who gets to…thrive in life that they choose for themselves.”

As reproductive rights activists, we must be mindful of the United States’ history of compulsory sterilization of people with disabilities and continued implicit bias. Disability justice and reproductive justice both center principles of autonomy, dignity and justice for those who have been disenfranchised (ReproAction, 2018). The movement towards reproductive justice originated from Black feminist advocacy in 1994 to center those whose experiences were excluded from the mainstream reproductive rights movement. The movement towards disability justice originated in the early 2000s following the rights-based disability activism of the 1990s. Disability justice organizing grew out of queer and POC groups to address ableism within progressive social movements. Principles of disability justice include, intersectionality, leadership of those most impacted, anti-capitalist politic, commitment to cross-movement organizing, recognizing wholeness, sustainability, commitment to cross-disability solidarity, interdependence, collective access and collective liberation. Rather than seeing these two movements as inherently separate, it is essential to consider their shared intersectional values.

If we as reproductive justice activists do not integrate disability justice activism into our work, we risk allowing pro-life supporters, and our history of reproductive coercion, to dominate the conversation around disability and reproductive rights. With increased awareness of movement intersections, reproductive rights organizations are taking on the work. This includes developing stances and language related to disability, and addressing abortion hierarchy by shifting the focus to center bodily autonomy of the pregnant person. We must work to address our own implicit biases around disability, address systemic ableism, and ensure our activist spaces are inclusive for people with disabilities through accessibility and principles of universal design.

Marian Geiger, Policy Research Intern, 2020

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We fight for a future that includes access to all reproductive health care no matter your zip code or employer. Maryland must lead the charge. Are you with us?