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Lawmakers and Activists Discuss Reproductive and Disability Justice

Abortions are essential health care, according to Leslie Templeton, a Women’s March board member and disability activist.

“Who can tell you that your life is in danger?” Templeton said. “Whether it’s mental health, whether it’s physical health, who determines what’s life-threatening?”

Boston College Law School’s chapter of If/When/How, a reproductive rights advocacy group, hosted Templeton and Margaret Light-Scotece on Tuesday to discuss the intersection of reproductive and disability justice.

Templeton said she has an “invisible disability,” which could severely impact her health if she became pregnant. 

“I shouldn’t have to risk my life to have a baby that might grow up without a mother because I died during pregnancy or died during birth,” Templeton said. “But my question is, ‘Why is my own life at risk for a fetus? Why is my life less important than a clump of cells?’”

The conditions for what makes a pregnancy life-threatening are not legally standardized, leaving doctors to decide on a case-by-case basis, Templeton said. One of her friends, who has dwarfism, was almost forcibly sterilized during a cesarean section, she said.

“While she’s in her C-section, she hears, ‘Okay, tie the tubes, make sure she can’t have another child,’” Templeton said. “She was so lucky to have a great advocate like her husband there. So it’s not really an issue of whether they can be parents or not, it’s ‘Are we providing enough services so they can be a parent?’”

Templeton and Light-Scotece also shared stories of parents with disabilities being unjustly treated and having their civil rights infringed upon. 

“I got to work on several cases where we had two parents that were blind, and their child was taken from them in the delivery room, under the assumption that if you are blind, you cannot effectively raise a child,” said Light-Scotece, staff attorney and lecturer at Case Western Reserve University Law School with the reproductive rights law initiative.

The issue of reproductive and disability justice also comes through in primary care—not just with abortions and pregnancy, Templeton said. 

“If you can’t fit your wheelchair through a door, you can’t go into that office,” Templeton said. “If the office doesn’t have a working elevator, you can’t use it. If the office doesn’t provide [American Sign Language] or doesn’t have an interpreter on demand, and you’re having an emergency, you may not be able to actually communicate with your doctor.” 

Following the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization—which reversed rulings made in Roe v. Wade—Light-Scotece said her team immediately ran into legal issues.

“Dobbs went into effect about three hours after the decision came down,” Light-Scotece said. “We had hundreds of patients that weekend that all of a sudden weren’t able to get care and had to be rerouted to other states. And at the same time, we had lots of questions about whether or not what we were doing at the abortion fund was legal or not.”

Dobbs was just the beginning of more anti-abortion legislation in Ohio, Light-Scotece said. 

“Just a couple weeks ago, we filed a challenge under our new constitutional amendment, challenging Ohio’s 24-hour waiting period and mandatory counseling requirements,” Light-Scotece said. “So that in Ohio, you have to have two separate appointments 24 hours apart with the same physician, and you have to have biased, terrible counseling at that first appointment to try and basically scare folks out of getting abortion care.”

Everyone becomes disabled as they age, Light-Scotece said, so it is important to be aware of ableism today.

“Ableism is not a very accurate gun,” Light-Scotece said. “When you target disabled people, you end up hurting everybody.”

April 17, 2024