Cara recently began writing for Feministe (congrats, Cara) and one of her first posts was a story linked by FRIDA about a disabled woman, known as KEJ in the courtroom, who went to court to fight forced sterilization her legal guardian wanted for her. The 3 panel judges ruled that there was not enough reason for her to be sterilized.
The woman, identified only as K.E.J. in court records, isn’t capable of raising a child on her own, but her guardian failed to prove that sterilization would be in her best interests, a three-judge panel in Chicago ruled.
Rather than celebrating this victory—and a disabled person’s right to bodily autonomy [control] is very much a victory in this ableist society we live in— the comment section quickly turned to the right of a child not to have a disabled parent or more importantly, who would be paying and raising for this kid.
Here are some sample comments:
“…Who exactly IS supposed to raise a child born to a woman who is truly incapable of doing so on her own? I realize that abuses have been and may still be rampant, and many disabilities do not affect a person’s ability to parent, but honestly, if this woman gets pregnant, who’s on the hook for raising that child? The aunt, who is already caring for KEJ?” Comment 4, by Ruth
“Who in the world is going to raise that child? Our tax dollars? Relatives dragooned into service through state power or shame? What if the disability is congenital and the child needs as much or more care than the parent? I agree with your basic point, that forced sterilization is something to be avoided. But people who are emotionally, or physically, or financially incapable of providing a decent quality of life for their children shouldn’t reproduce.” Comment 8, by felagund
“I am going back and forth on this, personally. When I first read it, I thought, “Well, she sounds like a perfect candidate for sterilization”. While I am not her doctor and don’t know her personally, I could certainly understand why someone who can’t take care of themself is not going to be a great parent. The article didn’t provide much information on her actual condition, but if she is mentally limited in some way- possible in this case- and unable to live by herself, it would seem almost cruel to the aunt who has already taken on a person who will apparently never be able to move out. It is also likely that KEJ cannot financially support herself, so in the event that her aunt dies, who will care for her and her offspring? And while this is not the case for KEJ specifically, certainly there are some people whose problems are going to be passed to their offspring, making the caretaker work even harder.” Comment 13 by Jenlovesponies
“…I do think it would be unfair to push that child on someone else (the mother’s parents or private caretakers). It’s unfair to the others, and it’s unfair to the child. It’s like giving a puppy to your friend, but your friend doesn’t have the time/patience/love/etc. to take care of it and pushes it off on her roommate, who grudgingly obliges because her roommate doesn’t want the puppy to be unhappy and starve to death. That’s not how children should be brought up!” Comment 14 by danakitty
A friend who lives in Chicago and has been following this case since 2005 told me privately that KEJ has her own house and a good sum of money. Though I have no evidence of this to blog about (it cannot be confirmed until court opinions come out), it is important to note how much the anger at KEJ for wanting children is based on her assumed class. What would the conversation look like if it was a rich disabled person who wanted to have children? Totally different, I’m sure. People wouldn’t hate KEJ and her wishes to be a mother would be understood and perhaps even appreciated.
Many commenters on the Feministe thread have rightfully pointed out how close the argument that disabled women should not be mothers is to the long history of policies and policing based on the idea that poor women should not be mothers. By talking about who will raise or pay for the child we are already talking about class— class and disability, like race, are very much tied together. I believe there are certain aspects of disability (poverty, housing, employment) that can somewhat be canceled out by class and white privilege (look at Christopher Reeve) but recognizing this does not give people the right to determine who are “good” parents and “bad” parents. Though the discussion is on disability, it is very much about criminalizing a perceived poor woman for wanting to have children.
It’s also interesting to think about this idea we have of childrearing [raising kids] and how much that is based on society’s heteronormative [expecting everyone to be straight/heterosexual] ideal of a perfect family: a father who goes to work, a mother who stays home to take care of the children, two kids, a dog, etc. Is this really reality? What happened to the idea that it takes a village to raise a child? Grandparents, babysitters, neighbors, teachers, siblings all play a part in every child’s life so why does it suddenly become irresponsible for a disabled parent to share responsibilities with other people when roles for everyday people are already being shared?
This whole arguement is also based on the idea that the disabled person will just pop a kid out and not plan for it (does this sound familiar? Anything like the racism behind the “welfare queen” stereotype?). This is completely inaccurate. Disabled people, from my experience, are naturally planners. We have to be. Every part of our life (at least for people with physical disabilities like mine) is planned… where I go, how I get there (is there is accessible transportation?), who will go with me (which PA can work?), when will I go (what times are PAs available?) are ALL planned ahead of time. Even the times I PISS or shower is planned.
Perhaps the kid’s childhood will be different than the “norm” or the idea of the norm but disabled people have so much to give (and not just in the tokenized volunteer at a day care way, btw). Is childrearing really just about who gives the kid a bath or is it about teaching values and preparing younger kids for life? Disabled people have so much to teach.. and not in that inspirational if-I-can-do-it-you-can-do-it way.
The ableism in these threads always scare me. Partially because it’s on feminist blogs, partially because the internet allows people to say what they really feel. KEJ’s case is a victory but I’m still left to question whether we’re making any progress.
For more information on disabled parenting:
www.disabilitypride.com (blog run by a disabled mother parenting disabled kids)
www.disabledparent.net (parent resource site)