The GOP Cares About People With Disabilities — If It Means Limiting Women’s Rights


A battle is brewing in Ohio over a new anti-abortion bill that would make it illegal to terminate a pregnancy because of a fetal Down syndrome diagnosis. As the New York Times' Tamar Lewin reports, the likelihood of the legislation passing is high, given that both chambers of congress have a Republican majority.

But wait — since when do Republicans care so much about disability?

Aside from the fact that the law would likely be an unconstitutional infringement on privacy (similar to Ohio's radical heartbeat bill, which would have made abortion illegal as early as 6 weeks), it would also be unenforceable; it's really hard to legislate private conversations between a woman and her doctor. Then again, who needs privacy when you can have politicians meddling in your personal business?

The likelihood of Ohio Gov. John Kasich signing the bill into effect is high given his anti-choice record: He's slashed family planning, and when recently asked if he would try to close half of America's abortion clinics, as he did in Ohio, he said, "We'll do our best." He's also running for president, and given that the Republican campaign so far has been a pro-life pissing contest, he's probably going to use this to reaffirm his commitment to valuing fetuses over women.

Kasich is also a divisive figure among disability advocates. Under his watch, two centers helping those with developmental disabilities shut down, and he has suggested removing funding for 14,000 independent providers, many of whom are caregivers for people living with a disability. Of course, other Republicans running for president have even worse track records. Rand Paul, for example, spent most of the winter trying to cut federal funding for disability benefits, and uttered the controversial (and false) statement that "over half of the people on disability are either anxious or their back hurts."

It seems like the GOP cares about people living with a disability only when they are still inside the womb. Once they're out, they're on their own. As Barney Frank once said, "Conservatives believe life begins at conception and ends at birth." The Ohio bill makes that position clearer than ever.

Nonetheless, the question as to whether couples should be able to abort a fetus after chromosomal tests reflect the possibility of Down syndrome is a valid one. There are numerous disability advocates who would argue that couples shouldn't have the option, because the stigma around developmental disability discourages parents to bring those pregnancies to term. Abortion rights advocates, on the other hand, insist that terminating a pregnancy is above all a personal decision and should be left up entirely to the pregnant individual.

But beliefs in abortion rights and disability rights are not mutually exclusive. David Perry, a journalist in Chicago who has a child with Down syndrome, says he can't stand to see pro-lifers co opt the cause. "As a father of a boy with Down syndrome, I do not want my son being used as a wedge issue in the abortion wars," he told Mic. "Politicizing births just helps the radical anti-choice fanatics play divide and conquer with the disability rights movement."

If conservatives want to make a real difference in the lives of people living with a disability, there's a whole host of issues they can tackle. Unsurprisingly, not many Republicans are championing solutions to problems faced by those with disabilities, such as poverty and unemployment. "There's so much work to do to fight stigma, improve employment, educational, social opportunities for people with disabilities, and build a more inclusive society," Perry said. "If we want to make the words 'Down syndrome' less scary to expectant mothers, and I do, we accomplish that by fighting for better policies and telling better stories."

If Republicans truly cared about people living with disabilities — as they should — their policies need to be consistent, and not just convenient or put in place to advance their agenda. You can't care about a fetus with a disability but not care about a child with a disability. Until the GOP shows a commitment to the latter, it needs to shut it about the former.