Written by bisexual, white, abled, cis-women of the feminist strike collective Zurich
The anti-abortion activists are increasingly advertising the March for Life (MFL) with the theme „Saving people with disabilities“. Just last year the whole city of Zurich was plastered with placards of a child with learning difficulties (also called trisomy-21 or Down syndrome). Above it the writing „Thank you that I may live“. These campaigns have been common in Germany for quite some time. From an anti-capitalist and feminist perspective, this type of campaign is particularly problematic. Why?
The MFL’s campaign is designed to make it look as if Christian fundamentalists* are working for people with disabilities (PwD). However, the campaign’s core message ignores the fundamental barriers to PwD in our society today. Today it is only possible for PwD to lead a self-determined life to a limited extent. This is because the environment, the social system and the people in our society do not sufficiently include PwD. From an early stage, the realities of life of PwD are separated from those of „sufficiently functioning people“. Thus, it is normal that a lot of money is invested in prenatal diagnostic research to find out as early as possible when a fetus/child is not sufficiently capable or too ill for our society. Separate schools, residential institutions and workplaces make the approach of collective care work for PwD impossible. Why? Because it is cheaper to place people in need of special care in a facility. The problem? Many are not even allowed to choose their place of residence, but are placed where it is most cost-efficient. The capitalist, profit-oriented system blocks a social system that promotes a self-determined life for PwD. Only with a lot of resistance and resources is it possible to go your own self-determined way. Therefore only the most privileged have the possibility to support their child on a self-determined path of life.
What about the decision of those who are able to give birth, who have no resources and are expecting a child with a disability? These people, like all those who imagine having an abortion, are faced with a particularly difficult decision. Here is a thought scenario:
„Now I have taken a test that shows me that my child will have a disability. Should I bring my child into a world that is characterized by exclusion? Do I reproduce a behaviour hostile to the handicap with an abortion? Can I afford to support my child financially, time-wise or emotionally, especially in the first years of his or her life? Can I imagine filling out an disability insurance application form every time I go on vacation, a family excursion, or a special educational path, and always having to hope that the restrictive disabiltiy insurance policy will support my child? Can I afford to go to court if this is not the case?“
With the campaign, the anti-abortion activists are trying to arouse pity in the population. PwD are not taken seriously today and are perceived as particularly „nice“ or “ help-needing creatures“. However, they are not believed to be able to decide about their own lives. There are many prejudices against PwD, and the problem is that we know too little about their realities.
Since the 1970s, feminist movements have been advocating the issue of ableism (discrimination against PwD) and linking it to feminist concerns. However, the process of coming to terms with this issue within the movements is only just beginning. This can be understood as a critique of the feminist „pro choice“ movements, which in the last few years have not taken a differentiated approach to the issue of ableism in feminism – for example, the question of prenatal diagnosis and how this can be criticized in a differentiated way. For example, the question could be asked whether the self-determined decision of people capable of bearing children is always emancipatory, or whether at a certain point it harms other marginalized groups and preserves the system.
With the campaign „save lives of PwD“, the anti-abortion activists are appropriating a highly political topic – with good reason, because in this area they can win over people who are interested – because too few position themselves or show solidarity regarding this issue. But with the demand for a ban on abortion this positioning of the anti-abortion activists is a big fat lie. They did not stand up for the concerns of the PwD themselves – have they ever stood up for a minimum wage for PwD? Or that the disabiltiy insurance pension should be increased? Or that the procedure for the disability insurance is simpler? Or that PwD should be allowed to determine their place of residence themselves? Or that roads, buildings and communication channels are barrier-free? No. They have not. And they will not. The organizers of the March for Life have their own Christian, fundamentalist goals and they abuse the discriminatory starting position of PwD for the reach of the poster campaign.
People who are capable of bearing a children and who are expecting a child with a disability are faced with an extremely difficult decision. The world is not built, conceived, designed, etc. for PwD and is associated with many barriers. The person who takes care of the child is automatically confronted with extra care work. This means less time and less money. As long as we do not yet live in a culture of collective care work or have a social system that recognizes self-determined life of MmB as normal, the childbearing person does not really have the free choice of whether to bring a child with a disability into the world. Not as long as the social structures do not support the realities of life of PwD or their parents. A general ban on abortion would be particularly dangerous and the pregnant person may be exposed to great suffering. Also, a ban on abortion does not protect the unborn children from the prevailing discriminatory system. And we would like to emphasize here: even if the system is no longer in place, it is always up to the childbearing person to decide about his or her own body. In essence, it is a matter of creating real freedom of choice and at the same time fighting against discrimination against PwD. But it can also be feminist to reject the offer of prenatal diagnostics in order to counteract the control and security mania and to make it clear that PwD are just as normal and part of society as everyone else.
From a feminist perspective, we must show greater and more specific solidarity with PwD and stand by their side. We must listen to them and understand what they need in a system in order to be able to live self-determined lives. PwD are a discriminated minority like so many other groups. Don’t we want to make a collective effort to create a society that is free of discrimination?