Forced to Bear, Denied to Rear: The Cruelty of Dobbs for Disabled People

94 Pages Posted: 6 Sep 2023

See all articles by Robyn Powell

Robyn Powell

Stetson University College of Law; Brandeis University - The Heller School for Social Policy and Management

Date Written: August 31, 2023

Abstract

The history of the United States is marred by a shameful record of using reproduction to oppress disabled people through state-sanctioned legislation, policies, and programs that deprive them of their bodily autonomy and self-determination. Disabled people face structural, legal, and institutional barriers to accessing reproductive health services and information, including contraception and abortion care. They also experience high rates of violence and reproductive coercion, as well as stigma and discrimination from health providers. Consequently, people with disabilities are more likely to experience maternal morbidity and mortality, rendering pregnancy particularly dangerous for some.

The Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision exacerbates this complex and challenging situation. Mounting abortion restrictions, coupled with the myriad barriers and challenges that people with disabilities already face, will result in some being forced to carry pregnancies to term even if they pose serious health risks or go against their wishes. Subsequently, should they choose to raise their children after childbirth, they will likely encounter ongoing threats to their parental rights due to pervasive assumptions of incompetence, inadequate family support, constant surveillance and scrutiny, and ableism within the family policing system’s laws, policies, and practices. Thus, the ruling creates a paradox for disabled people, where they may be forced to bear children but subsequently denied the opportunity to rear them, perpetuating a historical pattern of exploitation and subjugation.

In response, this Article presents a nuanced and novel analysis of the Dobbs decision and its implications for people with disabilities. To do so, first, the Article examines the profound impact of forced pregnancy on disabled people, delving into the underlying reasons for high rates of unintended pregnancies among this group. It also highlights the dangers and violations of bodily autonomy and self-determination that forced pregnancy entails for disabled people. Next, the Article’s focus shifts to the denial of parenting rights for people with disabilities, even after being compelled to bear children, exploring the societal, legal, and institutional obstacles that hinder their ability to parent, such as assumptions of incompetence, inadequate family support, constant surveillance and scrutiny, and ableism within the family policing system. Thereafter, it introduces the concept of disability reproductive justice and its relevance to these complex issues, providing a framework based on the principles of disability justice and reproductive justice to transform society into one that respects and supports disabled people’s reproductive freedom. Finally, the Article proposes legal and policy solutions guided by the principles of disability reproductive justice to address the reproductive needs of disabled people and dismantle the systemic causes of reproductive oppression, emphasizing the necessity of a comprehensive approach considering the rising threat to reproductive freedom.

Keywords: disability, reproductive justice, Dobbs, abortion

JEL Classification: K1, K36, K32, K39, I3, I38, K10, I30, I38

Suggested Citation

Powell, Robyn, Forced to Bear, Denied to Rear: The Cruelty of Dobbs for Disabled People (August 31, 2023). Georgetown Law Journal, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4558129 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4558129

Robyn Powell (Contact Author)

Stetson University College of Law ( email )

1401 61st Street South
Gulfport, FL 33707
United States

Brandeis University - The Heller School for Social Policy and Management ( email )

MA
United States

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