Mike Pence speaking at CPAC 2015 in Washington, DC. Photo by Gage Skidmore
You know that famous quote by Frederick Douglass: “Power concedes nothing without a demand”? Well, I don’t know if that statement necessarily applies anymore.
In March, Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed a bill into law making Indiana the second state to ban doctors and medical professionals from performing abortions solely because the fetus is diagnosed with Down Syndrome or another disability. Anyone violating the law can face wrongful death charges.
“I believe that a society can be judged by how it deals with its most vulnerable—the aged, the infirm, the disabled, and the unborn,” Pence said when he signed the bill.
So if Douglass was right, in order for Pence to sign such a groundbreaking piece of disability civil rights legislation, he must have been relentlessly pressured by disabled protesters clamoring for major new restrictions on abortions. But this struck me as curious because I’ve taken part in many a disability rights protest, and never has this even remotely been on the list of demands. I’ve never heard of any such protests either.
So I made a bunch of phone calls that eventually led me to someone who wants me to refer to them only as a spokesperson for the Indiana Senate. I asked how many disability rights groups testified on behalf of the legislation. The spokesperson said there was a grand total of none. Only some disabled individuals and parents of disabled kids expressed support.
So this must be another one of those ironic protection of rights laws that Republican governors love signing these days, such as the so-called right-to-work laws. The governors always say with a straight face that they’re standing up for the rights of working people, as if being required to pay union dues was the first complaint of workers.
There are also those new state laws that put so many limits on who can perform abortions at clinics that the clinics shut down. The governors say their motivation for signing these laws is protecting the safety of women. Did I miss something? I don’t recall seeing anything about hordes of feminists occupying state capitols and refusing to leave until clinics are made safer.
This smells like another one of those laws. Now I admit to being really uncomfortable about the idea of aborting fetuses based solely on a prenatal disability diagnosis. I was once one of those fetuses myself. I think there needs to be a big debate about this subject because the decision to abort is too easily based on ill-informed assumptions that living with certain disabilities is nothing but misery.
But in the end, I don’t believe that decision should ever be made by anyone other than the pregnant woman. And I really don’t believe most legislators and governors and anti-choicers who champion the rights of precious disabled fetuses give a flying damn what happens to them once they’re born.
To keep Douglass’s timeless quote relevant, we might have to update it with some sort of caveat, such as, “Power concedes nothing—except useless smokescreen crap that we’re supposed to be dumb enough to believe is in our best interest—without a demand.”
Mike Ervin is a writer and disability rights activist living in Chicago. He writes the blog Smart Ass Cripple at smartasscripple.blogspot.com.