I love my country, the United States. And that’s why I am so embarassed about the current cavalcade of birth control follies now overtaking our public life.

We have so many material resources, why can’t we share them to help all who need help covering the full range of family planning choices, without all this uproar? Poor Americans, immigrants, people of color, women, people with disabilities…why why why are these the groups that always get lost in the shuffle?

Exhibit A of said cavalcade: The all male panel that was convened before Congress to explain why the recent Department of Health and Human Services ruling on family planning coverage intrudes upon religious freedom.

When pressed, apparently, some of the panel members conceded that maybe contraception was OK in cases of “medical necessity.”

In an animated conversation with people I know, I submitted that this concession might stem from a belief that women with disabilities/health impairments have no business reproducing. Someone said that I was prejudicial, leaping to conclusions.

So I read through each of the panelists’ testimonies. If anyone can provide substantive evidence that any of these men have good disability and/or women’s rights records, then pleasantly surprise me, would you please?

Reading the testimonies just made me even more skeptical that any of them get the reproductive rights of women with disabilities–let alone *all* women’s family planning rights. Below are my notes on each testimony. If you want to read the testimonies yourself, please go here.

William Lori, US Conference of Catholic Bishops: Compares the proposed contraceptive coverage regulations to the government forcing Orthodox Jewish delis to serve pork, when that pork eaters can easily, cheaply, and freely get their chosen meat elsewhere.

This analogy does not hold (and it offends me as someone whose vision of reverence for life encompasses being a vegetarian, and an anti-anti-Semite). Pork is death-dealing, first of all to pigs, and second of all to humans who develop serious health problems from eating it. Access to free/affordable voluntary contraception, on the other hand, is often life- and health-giving for women, especially women with disabilities.

The analogy also suggests that contraception is somehow an optional luxury, one already easily, freely, cheaply available through many other venues. Yet the reality is that family planning access is far from a given for millions of US women, including and especially women with disabilities.

Women with disabilities are far more likely than nondisabled to live in poverty, rely on government benefit programs, be unemployed or underemployed, and thus to have constricted access, if any, to health care of all kinds, including voluntary family planning services and supplies. Any HHS ruling that expands voluntary family planning access, whether through government programs, private health plans, or some combination of the two, thus promotes the interests and needs of women with disabilities. Does Lori know this?

 

Matthew C. Harrison, President, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod: “We object to the use of drugs and procedures used to take the lives of unborn children. We oppose this mandate since it requires religious organizations to pay for and otherwise facilitate the use of such drugs by their employees.”

As All Our Lives asserts every day, just about, according to the best, most current scientific evidence, IUDs and hormonal birth control methods such as the pill and Plan B emergency contraception work *before* conception and not at any point after. Thus the contraceptive coverage ruling is in fact solely about pregnancy *prevention*, by *anyone’s* definition of when life or pregnancy begins.

If Harrison believes this misinformation about such a critical health issue impacting so many women, with or without disabilities: then why should I be optimistic that he is amply informed about, let alone eager to promote and defend the family planning concerns of women with disabilities, a frequently overlooked and neglected minority population?

 

C. Ben Mitchell, Union University: “I am here to decry the contraception, abortifacient, and sterilization mandate issued by the Department of Health and Human Services on January 20, 2012…” , See my objections to Harrison’s testimony.

 

Meir Soloveichick, Yeshiva University: “The administration denies people of faith the ability to define their religious activity.” This definition of “people of faith” does not include or side with disabled women who make prayerful, conscientious, lifegiving, and lifesaving decisions about which family planning method(s) to use and when and whether to pursue conception.

 

Craig Mitchell, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary: “This rule…takes away the freedom of the citizens while emboldening the federal government to do whatever it wants.”

Whoa….Just about every discriminated-against group in the US has heard such an argument leveled against its own struggle for justice.

Mitchell’s definition here of “citizens” who are deprived of freedom sides with powerful religious institutions whose policy on birth control, especially when intruded into the public sphere, infringes upon the freedoms of many women with disabilities (not to mention women in general, but let’s stay focused on this doubly discriminated against minority for the time being.)

In effect it forces a “choice” between lifelong celibacy and a single method of family planning, natural family planning that may be right for some women. But for many women with disabilities, NFP is quite ineffective and illfitting, even as pregnancy may be quite risky for them, and they wish *themselves* to conceive sparingly, or not at all.

Mitchell’s notion here of “citizens” deprived of their freedom in regard to family planning does not appear to recognize women with disabilities and their children’s and their own rights to health and life.

 

I treasure religious freedom, especially as someone affiliated with a distinctly minority, other than Christian faith. Some of my ancestors were forcibly deprived of their religious freedom. Never again! But these testimonies…so awry…so unaware, it seems, of who they are excluding, and why, and how. In the name of prolife, even though their unwillingness to meet the administration halfway could end up costing lives, unborn, already born.

In the debate over contraceptive coverage in the United States, many opponents have repeated the argument that they do not want to be forced to pay for "abortifacients," namely IUDs and hormonal contraceptives such as "the pill" and the emergency contraceptive Plan B.

But, as All Our Lives continually points out, this isn't what the scientific evidence says. Check out, for example, the references in our "Family Planning Freedom Is Prolife" slideshow.

In fact, these very methods are among the most effective reversible methods at preventing conception. So, they're not abortifacients. They are anti-abortifacients.

We have already discussed the grave real-life consequences of the misinformation here. Unfortunately, they go far beyond any blog post.

The Supreme Court of Honduras has just ruled that emergency contraception amounts to abortion and thus should be subjected to the same criminal penalties. Never mind that Honduran women's access to all kinds of family planning–pregnancy prevention–is severely restricted and the government.

If you appreciate the work of All Our Lives, please join us in challenging the rampant misinformation about how such methods of birth control work. Wherever you live, don't let it go unchallenged. Refer those who perpetuate it to our slide presentation, which lists specific scientific studies.

You will likely encounter complete resistance from some people, especially those who both categorically oppose birth control and want to interfere in others' right to make their own decisions about it.

But others will welcome the good news that these methods are anti-abortifacients. And if those of us who believe in family planning freedom say nothing, women will continue to suffer, and unborn babies to die.

MoveOn.org displayed a poster with a photo of an unborn child and a series of questions that All Our Lives has heard many times before.

"Will You Still Be 'Pro-Life' AFTER SHE'S BORN? Will you apply the same vigor to your work: against war, against hunger, against poverty, against homelessness, against our planet's degradation, against capital punishment, for human rights, for opportunities for education and jobs, that you do to your efforts to make abortion illegal? If not, please stop calling yourself 'pro-life.'"

So often these questions are accusingly rhetorical, with the expected answer-if the recipient has not been utterly shamed into speechlessness-of "Hell, no."

But that is not at all what All Our Lives has to say.

Our response?

Yes of course.Yes of course. Yes of course. Yes of course. Yes of course. Yes of course. Yes of course. Yes of course.Yes of course.

And by the way, it's all about making sure as few women and babies as humanly possible ever end up in situations where there appears to be no other choice.

Of course "pro-life" cannot mean anything less than this!

Elise Hilton is the mother of an intellectually and psychiatrically disabled young woman who was recently raped. As Meghan discussed in a recent post, women with disabilities are at pronounced risk for sexual abuse and assault.

It fell upon Hilton to decide whether or not her daughter should take Plan B emergency contraception. As LifeSiteNews.com reports, Hilton decided against Plan B for her daughter on the grounds that the drug may "take the life of an innocent child."

But up to date, correct scientific information about Plan B probably could have saved Hilton a lot of her agony over this decision and alleviated her fears of endangering a very young grandchild. Levonorgestrel type emergency contraceptives work entirely before conception. In fact, they have no possible mechanism for hindering implantation or otherwise working after sperm meets egg.

How often do rape victims and their loved ones suffer unnecessarily because of the myths out there-spread by prolifers and prochoicers alike-about emergency contraception and how it does and doesn't work? How many unintended pregnancies and abortions happen?

We wish Hilton and her daughter healing. We call for people to rise up against the rape and abuse of human beings with disabilities and bring an end to it. And we will work all the more to replace misinformation about Plan B with the facts that rape survivors and their loved ones need and deserve to know in the midst of a crisis.

Those of us with disabilities have had experiences that may seem truly horrible to those without disabilities. Some of us are wheelchair users. Some of us grew up in special education. Some of us have had multiple surgeries or use a respirator. All of these experiences fall into the category of things society considers to be “undignified.” My involvement in Disability Studies circles has shown me that a unique, disability-rights centered, progressive ethic regarding imairment and disability exists.  For instance, during a presentation on scars and disability at the 2011 Disability Studies Conference, a presenter mused, "I'm an agnostic…but, if there is an afterlife, I can't imagine that Osama Bin Laden or Jack Kevorkian are enjoying it too much." 

Recently, Tim Shriver of the Special Olympics wrote a blog post entitled “Raise Your Voice for Dignity!” concerning the recent travesty experienced by Amelia Rivera and her parents at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. During a consultation at CHOP, Amelia’s mother was told that the hospital would not perform a kidney transplant because the three-year-old is mentally disabled by Wolf-Hirschhorn Syndrome. The same week brought another travesty concerning the plight of an unnamed woman with schizophrenia who was almost forced to undergo an abortion and sterilization (see these posts from the Boston Herald and Jezebel). These stories epitomize what it means to experience true indignity. (Psychological recovery from the knowledge of such inquity also merits about a gallon of Brain Bleach).

When I was growing up with a disability, it really didn’t feel like a “big deal” in and of itself-what made it problematic was other people’s attitudes. To put it another way, my disability entails deficits in spatial awareness and coordination. It is difficult to describe just how seriously this impacts my daily life, but it means that I get lost very easily. I trip, bump into things, etc and have always done so. Again, this is and was a nuisance, but I have always had a good sense of humor and self-respect, so I would let it go. I didn't know I was "disabled" and "different" until someone told me. Frustration, or even significant challenges, are not the same as “indignity.” I’ll never forget one teacher who blamed me for being bullied and tried to make me stay in at recess so this wouldn’t happen. When I went out to recess anyway and was bullied, she wrote home to my mother to tell her that it was my fault-for going outside during recess. THAT was indignity. I could provide copious examples of people in authority doing similar things while I was growing up. I watched as peers with disabilities experiencd the same tactics. Maybe the teachers and other adults who did this thought they were doing the right thing, but what they did was punish bullying victims instead of the bullies. Moreover, by doing this the bullies got what they wanted-the elimination of their targets. They were not forced to change-in fact, they were taught that their behavior is justified because there was something obviously wrong with their victims, who had been removed from activities that they, the tormentors, continuied to enjoy.

So it is when the adult world suggests abortion and euthanasia as a solution to human disability. This practice has the same effect as taking bullied students off the playground at recess. Instead of addressing social inequality and allowing disenfranchized people to experience the simple things we all enjoy, people who will find themselves in this category are removed from the playground of life, so to speak. In doing so, the original goals and perspectives of the eugenics movement are preserved.

Because of such experiences, people with disabilities often embrace a different concept of dignity than mainstream individuals. It seems to me that of late, the concept of dignity has been conflated with “propriety,” and “orderliness.” Conversely, indignity has been equated with “yucky” and “embarrassing.” These conceptions are wedded to current conceptions of autonomy, which is often defined by the ability to execute daily tasks without assistance (what disability advocates would refer to as accommodations) or any kind. In contrast, a disability rights centered concept of dignity centers primarily on the facilitation of autonomy and interpersonal respect. Accessable buildings, education and mediical care promote automomy, whereas inaccessibility creates indignity. A disability-conscious concept of dignity acknowledges that indignity is caused by social constraints upon the tools needed to facilitate personal decision-making. Dignity does not mean looking past someone’s disability, but accepting it as an integral part of who that person is and respecting that individual’s right to equality.