Law & Order: “Dignity”, Worth, and the Medical Model of Disability

[x-posted from FWD/Forward: Feminists With Disabilities]

As a feminist, I am pro-choice. Abortion should be safe, legal, and accessible.

As a feminist, I look at more than whether single, individual women have access to abortion. There is a much broader reproductive justice framework that must be scrutinised, critiqued and repaired so that all women have access to informed, supported reproductive choices.

Women who have been denied informed, supported reproductive choices in the past include more than the wealthy, non-disabled white women who dominate pro-choice conversations. Marginalised groups are as likely to be fighting for their right to reproduce as their right not to – people of colour, trans people, lesbians, and of course women with disabilities, who have been denied sex education and forcibly subjected to contraception and sterilisation for centuries.

To that list of marginalised groups, of people who are often denied truly informed and supported choices, we can perhaps add – people pregnant with fetuses who may have a prenatal diagnosis of a disability.

As a feminist, I believe that we can have the abortion-rights conversation without marginalising, othering, and disparaging people with disabilities. I believe we can talk about abortion within that broader framework of reproductive justice, and that we can confront the ableism that creeps into some abortion-rights conversations head-on. This takes effort; we must think clearly, write carefully, read closely.

Yes, some forced-birthers will try to appropriate our words for their own ends. We need to remember that they are responsible for their own misreadings and misrepresentations, not us. We need to not let their twisted, misogynist agendas control what we say. They must not stop us from speaking out.

Law & Order, “Dignity”

So, guess what I did today? I swallowed my intense dislike of popular TV crimeporn show Law & Order, and watched episode 20×05, “Dignity”, in which a bloke murders a doctor who provides abortion services, to “save” his daughter’s fetus, diagnosed prenatally with Ehlers Danlos syndrome.

[clips, transcripts and a lot more discussion are below the cut]

Before we start, a little background on Ehlers Danlos syndrome (EDS). EDS is not one condition; it is a heterogeneous group of conditions caused by differences in genes coding for collagen proteins. Collagen is a key ingredient in all connective tissue, including skin and ligaments. The commonest EDS types manifest primarily as joint hypermobility or as very elastic skin. EDS often goes undiagnosed until adulthood, or completely undiagnosed throughout life.

There is a very, very rare variety of EDS called dermatosparaxis which involvs fragile, floppy skin and easy bruising; there have been ten published case reports of this variety worldwide. Within that group, the severity is still heterogeneous – check out this blog Sense and Disability, by a woman with dermatosparaxis who has studied at Oxford and backpacked through Europe.

Let’s have a look at the episode. I’m not going to go into a detailed recap; you can check one out here at All Things Law & Order: “Law & Order “Dignity” Recap & Review”. The case is a ripped-from-the-headlines story with many details closely resembling the terroristic murder of Dr George Tiller, one of a half-handful of late term abortion providers in the USA. The show adds a number of details that appear designed to showcase forced-birther ideas, such as the invented detail that the slain doctor had in the past murdered a live newborn. The murderer’s defence argument centres around the idea that he is trying to save a fetus from the abortion that his daughter has scheduled.

The fetus in question has apparently been diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos syndrome (EDS). At first, oddly, we’re told that it has “Fragile Skin Disease”, which typically refers to a completely different set of keratin-related conditions, epidermolysis bullosa. The show does not elaborate on how the EDS was supposedly detected (prenatal gene testing is not routine), or the fact that EDS is heterogeneous and that people with EDS vary widely in phenotype, or, well, any other facts, really. We just get this:


[Scene: Two detectives, Lupo and Bernard, are interviewing Kevin, the father of the pregnant woman, Blair.]

Kevin: Blair’s baby was diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos syndrome. The skin is so delicate the slightest touch causes tearing. It can be fatal without constant medical care.

Bernard: But you were willing to take on that responsibility? That’s a big commitment.

Kevin: Yep. I told Blair I’d work three jobs if I had to, we’d find the money.

Lupo: Your daughter told us she didn’t want the baby.

Kevin: She should have made the decision earlier. She’s 28 weeks. That’s not a fetus, that’s a child.

Lupo: And did you try to talk to Dr Benning? He got calls from someone claiming to be from the baby’s father.

Kevin: I thought he’d be more likely to talk to me if I had parental rights.

Lupo: And when he didn’t take your calls, what did you do? Mr Morton? Did you go to his clinic?

Kevin: No.

Lupo: Maybe you found out where he lived? Maybe you followed him to church?

Kevin: I went for a long walk. Things had been tense at home – Blair getting pregnant, it’s my fault. Ever since her mother died I’ve let her run wild. I wanted to take responsibility, but not with a gun.


Scene: the courtroom, where Kevin Morton is on trial for Dr Walter Benning’s murder. An OBGYN, Dr Blum, is on the stand, being interviewed by prosecutor Cutter.

Blum: As a board-certified OBGYN, I conducted peer reviews of Dr Benning’s practice. In my opinion, Walter Benning was a caring adn heroic physician.

Cutter: Did you review Dr Benning’s file on Blair Morton and her unborn child?

Blum: Yes. Regrettably, I concluded that child is doomed to a life of suffering that will require round-the-clock care.

Cutter: So in your expert opinion, was it reasonable for Dr Benning to abort Blair Morton’s unborn child?

Blum: Not only was it reasonable, it was the only responsible medical choice.

Cutter: Thankyou. [leaves]

Jenkins (defence): A fetus is viable outside the womb as early as 22 weeks, right doctor?

Blum: With state-of-the-art neonatal technology, yes.

Jenkins: Two weeks less than the period in which New York State allows abortion on demand. Would you agree that the law hasn’t kept up with medical science?

Blum: I don’t play that line-in-the-sand game. The right to choice is absolute.

Jenkins: Absolute? You would allow abortions up to the very moment of birth?

Blum: In cases of medical necessity, yes. The decision should involve only the mother and her doctor.

Jenkins: You don’t believe society has an interest in protecting life?

Blum: Life as defined by whom? Crackpots like your client?

Jenkins: So. Even though Blair Morton’s son was viable. Even though science might provide effective treatment for Ehlers-Danlos, even a cure in the child’s lifetime, you would have ended his life?

Blum: I don’t indulge in pie-in-the-sky thinking. As of today, the life that child will experience is compromised and without dignity.

Jenkins: Dignity? As defined by you? Would you volunteer to abort Blair’s baby even now?

Blum: Yes. If you asked me, I would. Threats and intimidation won’t keep us from providing abortions to the women who want them.

Jenkins: What if the law says you can’t?

Blum: Even the politicians bow to the hypocrites and fools, it won’t stop us.

Jenkins: “Hypocrites and fools”. Thankyou, doctor.

Given the messy, almost overwhelmingly anti-choice nature of the rest of the episode, I tried to write off this testimony as the show’s writers deliberately portraying the doctor as unrealistically ableist and absolutist: a fictional meanyhead. But I kept getting stuck on that reading, simply because this portrayal is not unrealistic. This is exactly what a lot of doctors say to people who come to them for answers, for help making decisions. Because they’re stuck head-first in the medical model of disability. Prenatal screening – first-trimester screening, triple testing, amniocentesis, ultrasound – is scheduled routinely by many, without discussion with the pregnant person concerned as to whether they wish for screening, and what types of screening they will choose. People who decline screening are treated with suspicion, and can be denied their choice of care due to inappropriate “high risk” determinations. When a prenatal diagnosis pops up, some doctors are already flicking through their book to schedule an abortion, before checking to see if that’s what is actually wanted.

The Medical Model of Disability

Deborah Kaplan and Marsha Saxton begin their description of the medical model in “Disability Community and Identity: Perceptions of Prenatal Screening” at Our Bodies, Ourselves:

The medical model of disability came about as “modern” medicine began to develop in the 19th Century, along with the enhanced role of the physician in society. Since many disabilities have medical origins, people with disabilities were expected to benefit from coming under the direction of the medical profession. Under this model, the problems that are associated with disability are deemed to reside within the individual. In other words, if the individual is “cured” then these problems will not exist. Society has no underlying responsibility to make a “place” for persons with disabilities, since they live in an outsider role waiting to be cured.

The medical model of disability is still strongly imbued with eugenic thought. In the medical model, disability is Wrongness, Abnormality, Defect, Other. Disability is to be prevented at all costs, cured vigorously, aborted when detected. Disability is sickness, suffering, doom, indignity. Disability is inherently bad; it is not made bad or intensified by societal ignorance and mistreatment, but is an intrinsically negative characteristic. People with disabilities are disempowered, are treated as ciphers without agency, voices stolen by medical-model advocates. The political, social, attitudinal and environmental aspects of disablement are disappeared in the medical model.

They only see doom, indignity, and suffering ahead. No more. The lives of people with disabilities are one-dimensional in their minds, and that dimension is unrelenting tragedy.

“The Only Responsible Medical Choice”?!

And so, abortion is seen not as an option, but as “the only responsible medical choice”. Abortion is seen as a medical imperative, not a decision made by the person hosting the fetus at the time. Kaplan and Saxton continue:

When medical professionals present the diagnosis of a genetic disease condition to the parents, do they also remind parents that this baby would also still come with a full set of other human characteristics? When medical students or genetic counseling students are shown slides of babies or adults with genetic conditions, do we also remind these students that these individuals will carry other human traits such as love and affection, humor and joy? Emphatically not, consistent with the medical model of disability, the diagnostic test reduces the entire set of human characteristics to one– the “flawed, imperfect” part.

Lisa Blumberg describes the outcomes of such consultations, in “Reproductive Technology & the Threat to Diversity” at Ragged Edge Magazine:

A few years later, I was a watching a news story on the merits of a predictive test for spina bifida. A woman explaining why she had gotten an abortion after test results had been positive said, ” I defy any woman, no matter how much she wants a child, to continue a pregnancy after they show her a picture of a deformed baby and tell her that ‘this is going to be yours’.”

Attempts to step outside of the Catholic/Fundamentalist/Forced-birther vs Pro-Choice/Medical Model/Abort-The-Defectives binary framework can result in all sorts of misreadings. Blumberg continues:

A prominent newspaper columnist once described the reactions she got to her veto of her doctor’s age-based recommendation that she have amniocentesis. She chose to forego the option of termination in the unlikely event the fetus was disabled, she said, because of the children she already had. She did not know how she could find the words to explain to them a decision not to have a child who might use a wheelchair or always need special guidance, she said, and still affirm for them her view that differences in people should be accepted.

She pointed out that this was not a snap judgment but something she had reflected upon at length. However, she said, people she thought knew her well dismissed her desire to contemplate older motherhood without prenatal tests with an “Oh, it must be because you’re Catholic.” She is, in fact, pro-choice.

Pro choice. Pro choice means all choices are available. Pro choice means we get to choose. Freely. Supported. Without being judged, or vilified, or stereotyped. I’ll finish this section with one more quote from Blumberg:

What scares me is not the individual decisions people make -although I may disagree with some of these decisions – but the fact that society has latched onto the new reproductive technology as a lead weapon in a simplistic war against “birth defects.” It is chilling to read decisions in wrongful birth and wrongful life suits where judges opine that avoiding the births of disabled children is a social good. It is equally chilling to hear public health analysts debate whether the abortion rate of “defective fetuses” will be high enough to make state-sponsored prenatal programs cost effective and efficacious. The legislature of at least one state (Alabama, in a law first passed in the late 1970s) has declared it to be state policy “to encourage the prevention of birth defects and mental retardation through education, genetic counseling and amniocentesis…”(Section 22-10A-l of the Alabama statutes). […]

I believe that the public discourse that we need has been stalled – even in the disability community – because when people discuss the implication of the new reproductive technology at all, they tend to do so within the framework of their views on abortion. Yet these issues transcend the abortion controversy, even as they cut across both sides of that debate. Somehow, we must begin to think more creatively and learn to meld together different world views.

Choices don’t occur in a vacuum

Imagine for a moment a world like ours, but with one change: that all doctors are enlightened about disability. That they see it as yet another human characteristic, that they are aware of the social model, that they offer truly free and informed choices about prenatal diagnosis and abortion.

There are broader ways in which reproductive choice is undermined. Feminists who are working to balance reformative and revolutionary ideas are constantly repeating the refrain that choices “don’t occur in a vacuum”. Decisions about pregnancy are an exemplar of this principle. We live in a fundamentally ableist world. Even if you strike an informed doctor who offers the options in a non-directive way, everyone brings their own baggage to that consultation. We have been raised to believe that disabled lives are less-than. We have been raised to believe that it’s not ok to be a “burden”, that one of the worst things you can do in life is “expect special treatment”. We live in a world where temporarily-abled people feel quite comfortable going up to people with disabilities and saying “If I were like you, I’d kill myself.”

We live in a world of ignorance and hate, where even the moral model of disability still has substantial cultural traction. Cerrie Burnell was denied a role on received multiple complaints for appearing on children’s television with one hand, which some claimed was “too scary”. Riam Dean was shoved in a stockroom for violating the “Look Policy” of Abercrombie & Fitch – by having a prosthetic arm. We read books where it’s hipster-hilarious to punish Mr Wickham for his sins by paralysing him in a carriage accident, and to punish Lydia for her sluttery by making her change his soiled linens. We are around service providers who think Gregory House is an instructive case study. We have been brought up with images of the village idiot, the pitiable invalid, the circus freak, the insane murderer, the disfigured outcast, the crippled villain. We have been raised to see people with disabilities as disgusting, repulsive, frightening, and even evil. We have been socialised to see people with disabilities as either impossible to love or desire, or the object of “deviant” fetish.

And we live in a world where mothers of children with disabilities struggle. We live in a world where women with children are disproportionately poor, where some are denied healthcare on the basis of disability, where carers are badly underpaid, where childcare and respite and educational options are constrained. We live in a world where we know that children with disabilities will grow up to deal with all of the negative attitudes that the moral and medical models bring to society.

We live in a world where the massively problematic concept of “dignity” reigns. Dignity is an essentially classist, ableist concept. The etymology of “dignity” is from the Latin word for “worthiness”. Wiktionary expands:

From Middle English dignitee – Old French dignite – Latin dignitas (“worthiness, merit, dignity, grandeur, authority, rank, office”) – dignus (“worthy, appropriate”), probably akin to decus (“honor, esteem”) and decet (“it is fitting”).

In modern English-speaking society, lack of dignity is seen to be inherent in anyone who needs assistance. Anyone who has help with mobility or bodily functions, or who fails to “control” their body’s noise or movements or leakage in societally-acceptable ways, is seen to be leading an “undignified” life. That people with disabilities who need care or help are inherently worth less than other people.

All of these issues come back to ableism. All of these issues need to be fixed.

Conversations in the Blogosphere

In none of the feminist conversations about this episode have I seen a single one of these issues addressed. Not one.

RH Reality Check” talks about “the doomed life she was carrying”, and a commenter refers to “fetal anomaly babies”.

Kate Harding at Salon talks of “a rare, devastating, potentially fatal illness”, then continues:

— It’s wrong to kill doctors and stuff, but the good news is, if an abortion provider is murdered the day before a woman is scheduled to have an abortion because the fetus was diagnosed with a rare and potentially devastating illness, and you live in a country where there are almost no late-term abortion providers to begin with? That baby will get itself born and be so damned cute everyone will be thrilled and see no point in even thinking about how ill he is, how young he might die, how much care he’ll need, how that care will be paid for, how his single mother will cope with being his constant caregiver, how she’ll earn an income, or how her choice about her own body and life was made irrelevant by a homicidal zealot. […]

[referring here to L&O character Bernard, who talks about how he survived his mother’s attempt to abort him:] Babies born two months prematurely to poor women of color who tried desperately to end their pregnancies do not automatically grow up to be New York’s finest, and never you mind the in-between stuff.

Nowhere in the flurry of femiblogosphere articles about this episode could I find a scrap of evidence that any of the feminists writing on this issue, who are quite rightly furious about L&O’s portrayal of Tiller, have opened up a Wikipedia article about EDS, or have informed themselves about the models of disability which are damaging and dangerous to people with disabilities, or have stopped to think for a second how their one-sided and dehumanising portrayal of disability as “doom”, “suffering” and “devastation” affects us, real live fellow feminists who are right here.

Denial of abortion rights to people who are making an informed, supported decision to terminate a pregnancy is shameful. Also shameful is the failure of society to wholeheartedly support and respect people with disabilities, and the misinformation and disability-hate spewed in the direction of people trying to make difficult decisions about their body and their family. Refusing to recognise or discuss one of these issues because the other is “more important” is just one more example of highly-visible able-bodied feminism embracing the saturation-level ableism of our culture.

It really, really, really sucks that almost the only place we hear the conversation that people with disabilities aren’t necessarily “doomed”, discardable, and dignity-free is from misogynistic forced-birthers. As this episode amply demonstrates, they’re doing it wrong. Why are we letting them have it?


P.S. [I have been diagnosed with hypermobility syndrome and a number of other manifestations of Ehlers Danlos syndrome. So this particular story was rather a smack in the guts for me.]

Categories: arts & entertainment, ethics & philosophy, gender & feminism, medicine, social justice

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25 replies

  1. Brilliant post Lauredhel, I don’t really have anything to add other than to say thank you and to acknowledge the work you’ve put into it – it’s appreciated.

  2. Ooh I have been looking forward to this post and it is every bit as awesome as I imagined it would be. Thanks so much.

  3. to echo what’s been said, thank you for writing this. brilliant piece of work.

  4. Well said, all of it.

  5. Really awesome post 🙂

  6. Wow. That’s pretty much all I can say right now. Spectacular work, Lauredhel.
    ‘Wrongful life’ has to be one of the most troubling developments in case law in recent memory.
    It’s also interesting in this situation to track the discourses used to condemn those who select for disability; the contrast between the approval and even enforcement of the termination of fetuses diagnosed with some kind of disability (there are OBGYNs who refuse to treat women who won’t terminate a fetus) and the absolute condemnation of those who use prenatal testing to select for disabilities demonstrates precisely how deep the ableism goes.

  7. Spectacular indeed. Thank you so much for this post.

  8. I got pregnant with my third child at 38 years old–old enough that I had prenatal tests that suggested the fetus might have Down’s Syndrome. I really waffled over whether to have amnio because of the much-debated risks to the fetus.
    As I read up on it, I discovered that most people abort fetuses with Down’s–and the geneticists’ in-house literature and discussion of the possibility was still stuck in the medical model that suggested that either the fetus had Down’s or it was a baby!
    I knew that, if my fetus had Down’s Syndrome, I was going to have to do a lot of work to educate family and friends, as well as myself.
    I ended up doing the amnio, as I found solid evidence that the risks were actually low relative to the risks to the fetus of my being anxious/depressed for the last part of my pregnancy, and the amnio doctor had very good stats. I decided I felt I could be a better, less anxious fetus-host if I knew for certain one way or another what was coming, though I also knew that, childbirth being what it was, I was still going to be in for surprises.
    As it turned out, my third didn’t have Down’s after all, though a later ultrasound showed he had a redundant set of branches coming from one kidney and a small problem with his bladder where there was a bubble of tissue there causing reflux when his kidney emptied into it on one side. He needed surgery once he was born to fix that to protect his kidney from damage.
    As I watched the episode, I couldn’t help but remember what I went through–and the way I discovered, first-hand, the way that ableism informs discussions about abortion and childbirth.
    And, like you, I was baffled and annoyed by the response to the episode in the feminist blogosphere.

  9. I was incensed by this episode because it seemed to give legitimacy to the idea that there really is a justification defense to the murder of an abortion provider but that legal details prevent it from working out currently. However, good people will continue to try to work out those legal details so maybe someday soon… It was particularly enraging because this is the defense that the e-Bay auction for Tiller’s murderer was supposed to support. I was so caught up in the idea of a prime-time recruiting video for domestic terrorists and murdering vigilantes that while I recognized that what they were saying about the medical situation was bogus, I didn’t think through the implications.
    Thank you for reminding me that this was a horror for other reasons. I’m very sorry that I needed reminding.

  10. I think there’s an analogy with female foeticide in some societies. As a feminist, I am pro-choice, so I wouldn’t comdemn the abortion itself per se. The thing that is morally wrong with female foeticide is the wider society within which it is practiced, which sees girls and women as being less valuable than boys and men. Feminists, including me, can perceive that particular problem very easily. So why do [some] feminists struggle to perceive the similar problem with respect to aborting fetuses that are thought to have disabilities.
    Many thanks for the post, Lauredhel. I’m sorry that my comment is a bit tardy; I wanted to think about it before bursting into print.

  11. The mis-information so casually bandied about by this TV show floored me. From both sides “this child will be born with tissue paper skin” or not maybe the writers should at least get the syndrome right, and “babies are viable from 22 weeks” which neatly glosses over the enormous struggle a baby born that prematurely faces just staying alive.

  12. *Trigger warning, I think maybe*
    Thank you for this post. My mum is deaf from rubella, as are some of her friends (it was a big year for rubella). At uni a fellow student remarked that in her country abortion was illegal “except of course in cases like rubella”. I was just floored.
    I am pro-choice and am glad that abortion is an option. If I had rubella during a pregnancy I would at least consider abortion though I think I’d be most unlikely to choose it. I think my mother would have at least considered it too (she certainly worried about rubella, having kids before the vaccine was available and not realising yet that she had retained immunity since she was in-utero). I respect women’s rights to make choices to abort and recognise they can be the hardest decisions to make in a life. Also that rubella causes other things than deafness.
    But my heart went straight to those great deaf and Deaf women* I know and the “of course” just threw me.
    I am interested to read more of the notion of dignity or lack of it in disability. We have had some heated disagreements over the concept in our extended family where someone’s death was seen by another family member as a blessing – because he would not himself have tolerated the loss of ‘dignity’ she was reaching – when it seemed clear to others of us that she had been greedy (not meant in a bad way) for every remaining day.
    I feel in my marriage that the concept of dignity is something we need to keep talking over – as if one of us is ever making a choice over respirators being turned off or similar, that we need to remember that the choice needs to reflect our spouse’s values rather than our own.
    * I’m not aware of deafness from rubella or other outcomes from in-utero rubella infection affecting women more than men – but I happen to know more women than men, including some women who I admire greatly.

  13. Thank you for this wonderful post Lauredhel. Like Allsaviva, I am especially interested in your analysis of the use of the word dignity in ableist discourse. My feeling is that “lack of dignity” is frequently misapplied to the object of one’s’ discomfort. Instead of owning that discomfort it is projected onto the person who has the disability. One of the things that comes up in research is that parents and carers frequently overestimate the suffering of their children with disabilities. This to me is one of the reasons it is so important that the voices of people with disabilities are heard and promoted ahead of those who occupy the caring role.

  14. I was so angered by the first few minutes of this episode that I couldn’t even watch the rest of it, but I’m so glad you wrote such a powerful post about it: This is the perspective I was looking for in so many of the other analysis I read, and it was nowhere to be found. Thank you.

  15. Yeesh, I can’t believe people are still watching that sh*t. It’s been pretty widely acknowledged that it’s like the Fox News of crime drama. And CSI’s way better anyway.

  16. FFS. This isn’t about who’s going to win an Emmy. It’s about attitudes woven deeply into the fabric of our society, covering the entire breadth of it, with very serious ramifications for the people at issue. It’s insulting every time someone tries to point out problematic history and societal trends and someone always shows up to say “Well why do you watch it then?”
    It’s not about being personally entertained. It’s about attitudes which have real results in people’s lives.

  17. I know it’s not about being entertained. But the fact that it’s been losing ratings shows, hopefully, that the attitudes of people who share this viewpoint have shifted.
    Mindy: yep. Viable does not neccessarily equal healthy. My mom’s a nurse, so I know those kids tend to do okay once they’re past the sticky bit, but I can only imagine how hard it is on them and the parents.
    I think the reason that the femisphere is not talking about this is because of the idea that caregivers are overwhelmingly going to be female. So the set-up is: women ought to be earning money vs. taking care of a disabled child. And feminism is supposed to support women’s independence.

  18. I know it’s not about being entertained. But the fact that it’s been losing ratings shows, hopefully, that the attitudes of people who share this viewpoint have shifted.

    Except that they haven’t. As I noted in the post, about the only people talking about the ableism in the reproductive justice conversation are disability rights activists, who talk about the thornier issues in ways that accept and embrace the agency of PWD and reject the “normality/abnormality” binary mindset, and forced-birther conservatives, who don’t. Where is the rest of the soi-disant-“progressive” world on this? Completely absent.

    Viable does not neccessarily equal healthy.

    Your point is?

    I think the reason that the femisphere is not talking about this is because of the idea that caregivers are overwhelmingly going to be female. So the set-up is: women ought to be earning money vs. taking care of a disabled child. And feminism is supposed to support women’s independence.

    And women with disabilities aren’t women? I believe that the reason the femisphere is not talking about this is far more complicated, yet more simple: Most femisphere bloggers are TABs, and most TAB people are just as ableist as each other, regardless of their political identification on the right-left antifeminist-feminist axes.

  19. @politicalguinea pig – my point wasn’t that viable doesn’t equal healthy, as babies as premature as 22 weeks are usually the result of pregnancy complications of much loved and wanted children and I think most parents just want their child to survive. My point was that the struggle for life at such an early age is incredibly difficult on the baby and that this was glossed over by the program.

  20. Mindy: It wasn’t clear, but I think I was trying to agree with you on that point. The anti-choice brigade really does gloss over those challenges, even though a few of them probably had premature babies. (Actually, I know one who was a premature baby back in the bad old days.)
    Lauredhel: Women with disabilities certainly are women, and you’re probably right about the reason for the silence of the blogosphere. I was trying to suggest another argument, but on farther reflection, Occam’s Razor should be applied.

  21. I think you are partly right about the difficulty feminism has with adressing its ableism. I think that the struggle to escape the narrowly defined gender role has been accompanied by a deep ambivalence toward the labour of care since that labour has always been undervalued*. The problem though is with the status and valuation of that role, not with the role itself or with women performing it. If the labour was valued at its actual worth, gender parity would follow, but of course the subordination of women was partly prosecuted through the devaluation of all of their labour and that situation remains for all of women’s labour but particularly in the area of care.
    Who is missing from what I have just said? Children, people with disabilities, people who are sick or otherwise incapacitated. In treating them as the object of undervalued labour we lose sight of their personhood and their dependency exaggerates this, the boundaries between the carer and the cared for become dangerously blurred to the point of invisibility for the dependent person. Also the exercise of patriarchal ‘power over’ can become particularly virulent in these relationships. As well as advancing the rights and freedom of people with disabilities, I think that Feminism that is accutely conscious of issues around disability, like Maternal Feminism, occupies a critical area of redefining interpersonal relationships. Critical because the hierarchical, “power over” nature of those relationships is at the root of so much personal suffering, institutional corruption and environmental degradation. Bit of a sweeping statement but I think it is true.
    *Sometimes people argue that motherhood for eg is actually idealised rather than devalued but it is both/and. In fact it is pretty interesting how the idealisation of an abstract quality seems to go hand in hand with oppression of the people who embody that ideal. I am not merely thinking of mothers but of people with disabilities who so frequently are offered up in the discourse as object lessons to the ablebodied for their “bravery”. It is perhaps similar to the portrayal of certain people of other cultures as mystical figures teaching the white folk. It is the reverse side of the same ableist or racist or sexist coin, not as confronting as for eg Glen Hoddle saying disability is a punishment for sin or the demonisation of black people as violent and criminal or the degraded discourse around single mothers, but that idealisation is as much a part of the oppression as more prejudicial attitudes.

  22. Sorry Lauredhel, I must have dropped part of my email address again in my previous comment.

  23. Great post, Lauredhel.
    I’m no longer shocked, but always dismayed, at how anti-choice some supposed pro-choice people can be, because they consider abortion in terms of policy. They are in favor of abortion because they are in favor of:
    Abortions for poor women whose children will be a drain on the economy. Abortions for women who are in college and who will ruin their educations. Abortions for women who are carrying “imperfect” fetuses.
    They confuse reasons a woman may choose to have an abortion for reasons women *should* have an abortion, in their opinion.
    .-= oldfeminist´s last blog ..Law & Order Abortion Episode =-.


  1. Old Feminist
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