Plain Language Version of our Statement: A version of our statement is available in plain language. It was created to help everyone in our disability community understand our position.
An Overlooked Perspective: The Implications of Roe v. Wade Being Overturned for People with Disabilities
As a disability-led organization, Able South Carolina (Able SC) is deeply concerned about the United States Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade.
Roe vs. Wade was a landmark decision in 1973 granting all Americans the right to access abortion care. As people with disabilities, we understand the devastating implications the ruling to overturn abortion rights has on our health and access to appropriate care. The Supreme Court’s decision threatens all human rights, which is terrifying for our community.
Why Able SC is speaking out:
Able SC supports each person’s ability to choose what’s best for their bodies. People with disabilities already face significant barriers to reproductive rights and healthcare; this is just another barrier we will have to face. For decades we have fought against forced sterilization and eugenics. We have fought for independence to make our own choices for our bodies.
While we understand abortion is a very personal and sometimes divisive topic, we also know that any laws restricting healthcare access harm the disability community more significantly than our nondisabled peers. Further, people who are multi-marginalized, such as disabled people who are Black, people of color, indigenous, survivors of sexual assault, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual, or other members of the queer community (LGBTQIA+), and those who are poor, face even more barriers to reproductive health. Our perspective must not be overlooked.
Able SC is no stranger to advocacy efforts when we see the rights of disabled people being threatened. We fight for reproductive rights from all angles, including:
The right of people with disabilities to
- Have and keep our pregnancies
- Have access to assisted reproductive technology such as in-vitro fertilization
- Have access to accessible pap smears and other exams
- Make decisions about our bodies, including the decision to end a pregnancy
We also advocate against the harmful stigma about people with disabilities. We want to ensure that doctors and medical professionals are not creating stigma when they diagnose fetal disabilities. We call upon doctors and medical professionals to ensure that when they tell a pregnant person their fetus is disabled, the person is not persuaded to get an abortion due to an ableist approach that hurts our community. Doctors and medical professionals must provide full, comprehensive, and non-stigmatizing information about fetal disabilities that allows people the ability to make informed decisions about their pregnancies.
Able SC takes the fight for disability rights beyond birth. We fought against state-sanctioned violence and threats to our parenting rights. In 2017 we won the right for people with disabilities in South Carolina to parent and keep our children in our care. We fight to keep our families whole.
How are people with disabilities impacted by the decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade?
It is estimated that 10 to 12% of people who are able to bear children have a disability. People with disabilities already face significant barriers to accessing all forms of reproductive healthcare. Because of access barriers and healthcare discrimination, we do not receive the individualized care we often need. We remain at a heightened risk of pregnancy-related health complications and an increased risk of pregnancy-related mortality.
We also experience a higher poverty rate than people without disabilities. According to the National Council on Disability, people with disabilities experience a poverty rate of two times more than that of our nondisabled peers. Additionally, Black people with disabilities are nearly 55% more likely than white people with disabilities to experience poverty. Disabled people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or a part of the queer community (LGBTQ+) experience higher poverty rates than their nondisabled peers. Poverty adds to our difficulty finding quality reproductive and contraceptive health care services. These ableist circumstances have made access to effective contraception impossible for many. As a result, disabled people have unintended pregnancies at a higher rate than nondisabled people.
The history of ignoring the sexual and reproductive health of people with disabilities has led to a lack of information on our pregnancies and prenatal care needs. Eliminating abortion rights could cause bodily harm and even death to people in the disability community. Removing our choice on whether to carry a pregnancy to term is just one more ableist decision made for us without considering our needs.
People with disabilities are more likely to be victims of sexual assault, intimate partner violence, and reproductive coercion. Reproductive coercion is when someone pressures another person into becoming pregnant by threatening them or secretly removing or damaging contraceptives.
We are over three times more likely than nondisabled people to experience sexual assault in our lifetime. That rate increases for people with more than one disability, disabled people who are LGBTQ+, and disabled people of color. Sometimes sexual assault results in pregnancy. We deserve the right to end any pregnancy, including if sexual assault necessitates that need for access.
Mental & Physical Wellbeing:
Some people with disabilities may be unable to carry a pregnancy to term because of their disability or treatments. A pregnancy could exacerbate one’s disability, causing harm to their life. For example, people with physical disabilities, diabetes, and epilepsy experience a higher risk of pregnancy complications that could lead to pregnancy-related death or miscarriage. People with disabilities have an increased risk of pregnancy-related morbidities compared to nondisabled people. These rates of risk increase for disabled people of color.
If a pregnant person requires a life-saving medication and discontinues using it due to a pregnancy, they could die. For example, people with psychiatric disabilities are often required to stop medication treatments for the duration of their pregnancy. However, many psychiatric medications cannot be stopped immediately without risking life-threatening withdrawal side effects, including increased suicide risk. People with psychiatric disabilities who are unexpectedly pregnant may be forced to make a harmful choice: We can either end our needed medication and risk dangerous side effects or continue medication that could harm us and our pregnancy.
The consequences of being forced to carry a pregnancy are more severe for people with disabilities because of lack of access to healthcare, higher risk of childbirth complications, and potential for psychological harm. Forcing anyone to carry a pregnancy can be deadly and cruel.
Bodily Autonomy & Independent Living:
Bodily autonomy is often taken from people with disabilities based on misconceptions that we are less than capable of making decisions about what happens to our bodies. This is profoundly discriminatory.
The Independent Living philosophy is the idea that people with disabilities are the best experts on our needs. Our thoughts and opinions matter, especially when it concerns our own lives. We should be able to make decisions for ourselves. Losing the right to an abortion or access to abortion directly opposes the independent living philosophy we stand by.
Reproductive rights are critical to all people, including people with disabilities. These rights give us the liberty to privately make decisions about ourselves. Ending the right to an abortion will create more barriers for the disability community.
People with disabilities deserve the right to access the medical treatment we need. Able SC believes that abortion care is a treatment we should have access to for all reasons stated above. Access to health care is critical to disability justice and prosperity.
Rather than restricting our access to abortion care, lawmakers should consult with us and address the current barriers to healthcare that we face. The disability community is tired of being used as a pawn to justify restrictions or bans on abortion access. We are also tired of being denied equity or singled out regarding informed consent.
Able SC is committed to doing all we can to protect the rights of people with disabilities, including reproductive and all human rights, because that is what we do.
Know your rights:
The Department of Health and Human Services has launched a website to help you navigate reproductive rights laws in your area. Learn more at reproductiverights.gov.
Further your education:
- With Roe v. Wade overturned, disabled people reflect on how it will impact them.
- Our bodies, our rights: What’s going on at the Supreme Court? (materials available in plain language)
- With Roe Overturned, Advocates Fear Disability Rights May be Next
- The paradox of disability in abortions debate: bringing the pro-choice and disability communities together
- Access, Autonomy, and Dignity: Abortion Care for People with Disabilities