Earlier this month I spoke at a reproductive justice rally, and as much as I was honoured to be there, it wasn’t something I ever thought I would do. For a long time I stayed out of the pro-choice conversation. I have always been pro-choice, but I didn’t always feel included in the movement. My concerns about reproductive justice were a little different than most feminists, while most women I knew were fighting for the choice of whether or not to have children; most women with disabilities were fighting for the choice to have children at all.
Like many fights in the disability movement this one goes on silently and often behind closed doors. It happens in subtle ways, the dead quiet after a little girl with a disability suggests that she is going to be a mommy someday, the doctor who asks a teenager with a disability why she wants birth control, to the barrage of comments a pregnant woman with a disability is subjected to in public. It also happens in more overt ways, like when a woman with a disability is not allowed to have her child in the maternity ward, the many unwarranted calls to the Children’s Aid Society, and even in some cases forced sterilization.
There are 300 million women with disabilities around the world, each one of them are impacted by issues like these, compounded by the same lack of reproductive justice facing other women in their communities. But how do these women organize if they are too afraid to tell their stories? How can we expect them to join the movement if they do not feel included?
While these women are feeling excluded from discussion of choice and reproductive justice, the anti-choice movement has been freely exploiting us for years. One day they tell women that children with disabilities are their punishment for having abortions, and the next time they are telling women that they should risk giving birth to a potentially disabled child, even at the risk of their own lives. We did not ask to be used this way, and I for one refuse to be used this way.
What we need is a reproductive justice movement that welcomes women with disabilities in the way we want to be included. The rising of women is the rising of us all, but only if women with disabilities rise too.