In defence of a woman's right to choose: abortion, disability and feminist politics

Earle, Sarah and Sharp, Keith (2007). In defence of a woman's right to choose: abortion, disability and feminist politics. In: Douglas, Jenny; Earle, Sarah; Handsley, Stephen; Lloyd, Cathy E. and Spurr, Sue eds. A Reader in Promoting Public Health: Challenge and Controversy. London: Sage, pp. 82–87.



Having a baby is an important life event but it carries a physical, emotional, social and financial toll – especially for women. Women are solely capable of carrying and bearing children, and are often wholly, or mostly, responsible for their own children throughout childhood, and beyond. circumstances. It is for these reasons that we write in defence of a woman’s right to choose. However, in recent years this right has been challenged by those who believe that the right to choose perpetuates a eugenic approach to public health. This idea has been promoted, disingenuously, by anti-choice organisations such as LIFE, and the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, and is also promoted by some watchdog groups such as Human Genetics Alert. More worryingly, the idea has also been put forward by the disability movement.
Elsewhere we, and others, have drawn attention to the conflict which exists between the feminist principle of the right to choose, and the concerns of the disability movement that to permit abortion on the grounds of impairment is tantamount to endorsing an anti-disability eugenics. Many authors have sought to show that this conflict is illusory and that, with careful reasoning, the feminist and disability movements do not necessarily have to be at odds on this important issue.
It is the aim of this article to explore these claims in some detail, and to show that whilst there might be general points of ideological agreement between the two movements, on the issue of abortion, a fundamental and irreconcilable conflict inevitably remains. Consequently, whilst we accept many of the concerns reflected in the position endorsed by the disability movement, we argue in defence of woman’s right to choose, whatever the circumstances.

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