Ongoing debates around fetal impairment as a legal basis for abortion act as a wedge issue between the disability rights and reproductive rights movements. Disability rights advocates are concerned that laws that expressly permit abortion on grounds of fetal impairment codify the notion that disabled lives are worth less than non-disabled lives. Reproductive rights advocates are concerned that reforming abortion laws to remove fetal impairment grounds—or to expressly ban abortion in the case of a fetal impairment diagnosis—will result in less access to safe abortion and exacerbate the attendant human rights consequences. These tensions are fueled both by advocacy strategies to advance abortion rights that can reinforce harmful disability-related stereotypes and by opponents of abortion rights co-opting disability rights language to impose greater restrictions on abortion access.
Women with disabilities, who live at the intersection of these two movements, care deeply about both protecting reproductive autonomy, including the right to access safe abortion, and dismantling harmful disability-related stigma. Too often, however, their voices are left out of the debate. To remedy this lack of voice and representation in these ongoing debates, Women Enabled International (WEI) conducted a series of consultations with 40 persons with diverse disabilities, who have the biological capacity to become pregnant, and who advocate at the intersection of gender and disability. These consultations provided a safe space in which these advocates from around the globe could discuss specific concerns around this historic tension.
In this framing document, WEI identifies the primary concerns of the women with disabilities who participated in these consultations—as well as the primary concerns of the disability rights and the reproductive rights movements, analyzes the human rights standards that underpin this debate, and applies an intersectional human rights-based approach to posit a way forward.