The debate around abortion, foetal abnormality, and disability was re-ignited by a piece written by Tim Montgomerie in the Times.
At the outset of my own argument, I would like to commend to you this latest post from Glosswitch. It outlines many of the arguments around pro-choice and reproductive rights.
I fully support women’s bodily autonomy and their own choices. However I felt strongly that there had been an important omission from this debate. The voices of disabled people themselves. That alone is my rationale for this piece.
When I was born, I was born at 28 weeks gestation, that is to say three months premature. I was born on the 17th January. I was due on 30th March.
Doctors told my mother explicitly that my chance of survival was 50-50. It could have gone either way. But also, given my level of disability, and the impending challenges that would bring to my mother’s life, she could have easily chosen to end her pregnancy and that would be a decision which is utterly understandable.
However, she chose not to and here I am. But a conversation around the dinner table this Christmas made me realise how premature my birth actually was. It scared me. I was so small she could pick me up in the palm of her hand. My organs were not fully developed. I had trouble breathing and contracted pseudomonas on my chest.
I do have to give utmost credit to my mother because she brought me up single-handedly with no help from my father. We were pretty isolated in a small flat with little outside assistance.
Tim Montgomerie stated that many people are simply too “frightened to raise a disabled child.”
My mother wasn’t. But that does not mean women who are should be vilified, condemned and made to feel ashamed of their choice. I am fully aware that my disability came at a cost to my mother. She missed out on a social life, holidays and employment.
There is also nothing simple about it. That is why it is equivalent to a full time career. That is why we employ care workers to ease that burden on relatives.
Therefore, it is entirely proper that women should be able to meaningfully reflect upon any residual impact on their own lives without feeling like The Worst Woman. Furthermore, it is entirely proper they receive whatever emotional support is necessary to enable them to understand the implications of giving birth to a disabled child.
I would far rather a mother had an abortion than for her to carry a child to full term out of guilt.
Having a disability myself, you may be surprised to hear me say that. But you know who would suffer as a net result of such a decision, don’t you? The baby, who then morphs into the child, and lastly they will morph into a damaged adult.
I cannot support a two dimensional framing of this debate, whereby women who choose to keep their disabled child are hailed as the best of modern parenting, and those who choose to abort are an evil heartless abomination
It angers me viscerally to be a pawn in this game of Heroes and Villians. Tim Montgomerie later said that he could not support laws which made disabled babies second-class citizens. This would be the bit where I tell Tim how happy I am and say “Thanks Tim. Thanks for standing up for me. I’m so grateful.” Love you Tim! How sycophantic and saccharin. But no!
I do not need a saviour. I need someone who is prepared to listen to the sheer complexity around these issues.
I am not your totem, Tim. Nor do I want to be used as a vehicle to facilitate the poisoning of the pro-choice standpoint. Nor will I be manipulated.
Women are the ultimate arbiters of their own individual bodies and minds. That process of arbitration should be respected without “saviours” like Tim Montgomerie playing the totemic violin. It is utterly insulting to women, their autonomy, and the intelligence of disabled people themselves. The work of caring for a disabled child is not glamorous, and by the time we reach adulthood is fraught with frustration and setbacks..
Either caring for a disabled child, or having an abortion due to foetal abnormality, are both scenarios filled with cost to parents, emotional, physical and psychological. That is why all women need our love and support, free of invective.
A disabled child is for life, not just for Christmas.