'I would die': People with disabilities say abortion bans could have fatal consequences

·6 min read
Disabled woman in a wheelchair with a large space in the middle, separating her from a clinic.
Anna Kim/Insider
  • People with disabilities are more likely to die from pregnancy or experience adverse outcomes from giving birth.

  • With the overturning of Roe, disabled people will suffer disproportionately, advocates say.

  • "If I were to ever get pregnant, and I had to give birth, I would die," one person told Insider.

When Quinn was 16, a doctor told them that getting pregnant and giving birth was not an option.

Because of Quinn's collagen disorder, the doctor said, a pregnancy would cause a whole slew of difficult symptoms, including ruptured joints.

"If I were to ever get pregnant, and I had to give birth, I would die. There would be almost no doubt about it," Quinn told Insider.

Quinn, who did not want to use their last name out of fear of legal repercussions, is now 21 and lives in Arizona, where state Attorney General Mark Brnovich said he would enforce a total ban on abortions.

On June 24, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, delegating abortion rights laws to individual states. Eight states have enacted abortion bans, and more may soon follow.

The decision is another way people with disabilities are being stripped of their reproductive rights, disability rights advocates say. And for some, a lack of access to abortion could be deadly.

Quinn is one such person. They said that as a single lesbian, pregnancy isn't something that scares them on a day-to-day basis. But being sexually assaulted — people with disabilities are three times more likely to be assaulted — and having an unwanted pregnancy is a real concern for them.

'We're putting disabled people who can become pregnant at huge risk'

The literature on disability and pregnancy outcomes is limited — advocates say this is because of prevailing stereotypes that disabled people do not engage in sexual activity.

However, a study in Ontario, Canada, found that people with a pre-existing disability who gave birth were more likely to experience maternal morbidity or mortality because of disparities in health and health care access.

People with multiple disabilities and intellectual disabilities were the most at risk for developing adverse pregnancy outcomes such as pre-eclampsia, thromboembolism, and gestational diabetes.

Additionally, between 2003 and 2018, there were nearly twice as many deaths among people with disabilities who gave birth compared to those without a disability.

Mia Ives-Rublee, director of the Disability Justice Initiative at the Center for American Progress, told Insider the government was putting disabled people at "serious risk of dying." Ives-Rublee herself has osteogenesis imperfecta, which results in brittle bones.

"I don't know if I can give birth," Ives-Rublee told Insider.

Beyond the risks of people who physically cannot have children, Ives-Rublee said disabled people, an already marginalized group, have never had equitable access to the reproductive resources they need.

"And I'm not talking about just abortion clinics," Ives-Rublee said. "I'm talking about general reproductive health clinics, gynecology clinics, even just general doctor's clinics. They're not accessible for a lot of individuals with disabilities."

People with disabilities are more likely to experience discrimination in reproductive healthcare settings and less likely to find facilities or equipment that can accommodate their specific disabilities. As a result, they are more likely to lack access to birth control, preconception and prenatal care, and abortion services.

Removing abortion access by enacting bans is another way disabled people are stripped of their bodily autonomy, Ives-Rublee said.

"Not understanding how this can impact, significantly impact, particularly such a vulnerable community, just is an absolute slap in the face," Ives-Rublee said.

'I'm very lucky that I had the abortion when I did'

On the day that Roe v. Wade was overturned, Martha went on a neurofibromatosis Facebook group she was a part of to find people were "freaking out."

Many in the group rely on Disability Supplemental Security Income, she said, which in 2019 was an average of $1,234 a month — barely enough to keep a person above the poverty level. They could not afford to travel for abortions.

"There's a woman that posted, and she's like, 'If I get pregnant, I'll kill myself,' and asked for methods of killing herself," Martha told Insider. She is using a pseudonym to prevent backlash from her neurofibromatosis group, but her identity is known to Insider.

Neurofibromatosis is a genetic disorder that results in the growth of tumors all over one's body. The disorder is known to be exacerbated by pregnancy and can lead to cancerous growths or death.

Martha herself had an abortion 10 years ago and said it may have saved her life. She's now worried that other women with her disorder will not have that same opportunity.

"I'm very lucky that I had the abortion when I did because...five months later, I got diagnosed with cancer that was caused by my genetic disorder," Martha said.

Martha said, however, that abortion is a controversial topic in her community. Because neurofibromatosis is a genetic disorder, women will have abortions because they do not want to pass the disability on to their children.

Disability-selective abortions have become more common as genetic testing becomes more advanced, and right-wing activists often use this to garner support from people with disabilities.

However, a national poll from Data for Progress found that support for abortion among people with disabilities reflects the general population. The polling data shows that 53% of disabled participants believe abortion should be legal in most circumstances and 59% believe that Roe v. Wade should have remained in place.

"And I want to be clear, women with disabilities have kids all the time and can be amazing mothers," Martha said. "And there's nothing wrong with having a genetic disorder and choosing to have a child. That's totally fine. That's totally their choice."

'A lot of people don't even seem to care about disability rights'

Quinn said they are fortunate to have the financial means to travel for an abortion but knows people who may not be able to.

"A lot of people don't even seem to care about disability rights as is, so they don't care about specifically disability-related reproductive rights," Quinn said.

They also fear that the Supreme Court would go after other rights, including disability rights.

In a concurring opinion following the ruling overturning abortion rights, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the court should reconsider rulings that provided the constitutional rights to same-sex marriage, same-sex relationships, and birth control.

Disability rights advocates have also shared concerns that the Supreme Court may go after the Americans with Disabilities Act — the 1990 civil rights law that prevents disability discrimination.

"I just feel like it needs to be better understood that disabled people are affected by all of these decisions," Quinn said. "As soon as they start taking down rights for half of the country, of course they're going to go after disability rights."

Read the original article on Insider