Bioethics Blogs

Ohio Abortion Bill Stokes Old Tensions between Disability and Abortion Rights Advocates

The recent Ohio bill that would ban abortion based on a fetal diagnosis of Down syndrome has triggered widespread comment.  In a state where 23 of 33 senators, 65 of 99 representatives, the governor opposes abortion rights, and half of abortion clinics have closed in the past four years, it is likely to pass.

The bill also raises longstanding tensions between perspectives based in disability rights versus reproductive rights. As Sujatha Jesudason and Julia Epstein explain:

The disability rights movement is concerned about the number of pregnancies terminated solely because an expectant mother receives a diagnosis of a potential fetal disability. And the reproductive rights movement worries that any line of questioning concerning a woman’s prerogative to terminate her pregnancy will inevitably lead to undermining her decision-making autonomy.

Here, we examine how a selection of news articles and commentaries address – or ignore – this tension.

News coverage in The Economist is explicit on the point, arguing that “the bill scrambles some familiar positions.”

Abortion advocates are almost uniformly proponents of robust state funding for social services, including for the disabled. The anti-abortion lobby is generally staunchly conservative and opposed to anything that looks like a new entitlement. If the law goes through, as seems likely, women will be required by the state to give birth to their disabled child, but will not be able to count on much help from the state to raise it.

An article in The New York Times also mentions strains between advocates of disability rights and abortion rights, and notes in passing that the bill has the effect of “driv[ing] a wedge” between them.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.