On June 24, 2022, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization and overturned Roe v. Wade. While this ruling did not make abortion illegal, it will severely limit access to abortions in many states. According to disability rights advocates, this could particularly impact the 2.8 million women of reproductive age in the U.S. who are living with disabilities.
The Dobbs decision “does not just threaten value systems and rights, but the health and safety of disabled people,” stated the American Association of People With Disabilities in a news release. “This decision will cause grave, and in many cases, lethal, bodily harm to far too many disabled people, especially those who already face the most significant barriers to accessing reproductive health care.”
For many people with disabilities, pregnancy can create significant safety risks to both the mother and baby. Some disabilities result in conditions where a fetus cannot be carried safely to full term, or miscarriage is more likely. In other situations, interactions of medications or therapies used to treat disabilities can put an unborn child at severe risk of congenital disabilities or significant medical issues.
Intellectually and developmentally disabled individuals are more likely to be victims of sexual assault or abuse. This likelihood increases when a person has multiple disabilities. As a result, limiting their access to abortions can create situations in which they are forced to carry a child for which they may not be able to care. It may also further entwine them with a traumatic event and their abusers.
With the Dobbs decision, many disabled individuals can no longer safely access abortion care in their own states. For many who live on a minimal or fixed income, being able to afford out-of-state travel to seek this care can pose a challenge. They may also not have family support, accessible transportation options, or as much flexibility with their employment to seek time off to help them in these situations.
If a disabled individual gets their medical care through Medicaid or Medicare, they could also face the issue of not having the cost of an abortion covered, depending on the state in which they live. Many may turn to unsafe or illegal abortion providers.
Beyond Reproductive Rights
For people with disabilities, concern over the loss of autonomy and decision-making extends beyond reproductive rights. Disabled people are more likely to lose their rights to make their own personal, financial, and medical decisions through conservatorship or guardianship. They are also more likely to become institutionalized or live apart from their loved ones due to conditions that may require a heightened level of care.
Many advocates are worried that the Dobbs decision may pave the way for challenges to other rights the disability community has gained in the past two decades. These include the rights established by the Supreme Court’s Olmstead decision, which states that people with disabilities have a right to receive care in their homes and communities and not be isolated from the outside world.
“Olmstead may not be put directly at risk by Dobbs,” the Center for Disability Rights said in a recent statement, “but the decision in Dobbs underscores how rights granted solely through court decisions, including the right of disabled Americans to live in freedom, are precarious.”
While the Dobbs decision may be viewed as a victory for some, it has had the opposite effect on many in the disability community.