As the Irish referendum looms, more and more dirty tactics have emerged from the pro-life camp. With the aim of persuading the country to vote against repealing the 8th amendment, the forerunners of Vote No released a poster which informs the public that ‘In Britain, 90% of babies diagnosed with Down Syndrome are aborted’. I’m not too sure where this ‘fact’ comes from or what data source was used to anchor such a message, but the word propaganda springs to mind after viewing this controversial banner. Printed alongside a depiction of a father and daughter, with the latter seemingly affected by the genetic disorder, these words have shone light on wider social issues that exist alongside the debate over reproductive rights.

Preying on the vulnerable in society for political gain is a far too common tune, and when it comes to reproductive rights, disability is hardly a new focus of pro-life rhetoric. It is often featured in similar anti-abortion campaigns, specifically those that take place in America. For example, Karianne Lisonbee, Utah’s Republican state representative, is currently sponsoring a “Down Syndrome Non-Discrimination Act”. If passed, like it has been in Indiana, North Dakota, Louisiana and Ohio, this legislation seeks to prohibit abortion on the grounds of a diagnosis of the disorder in an unborn foetus. This basically means that disabled babies are being used to further the anti-abortion agenda as pro-life supporters exploit their physical differences to give moral strength to their campaign.

The problem with focusing on disability in the debate over reproductive rights is that it uses vulnerable groups to strengthen an idea that’s purpose is to limit the rights of other groups. Preventing a woman from aborting a baby, disabled or not, significantly undermines her freedom and livelihood, much like the way our social, political and economic systems discriminate against disabled people on a day-to-day. The Irish pro-life campaign should not resort to demonising women who have to make a difficult decision to abort a baby that has been diagnosed with Down Syndrome. Such ‘facts’ as the ones shown on the poster that is currently circulating the streets of Ireland, damage the way people view a woman’s experience of an unwanted pregnancy, and take the emotional and physical pain she may endure after making the decision to abort a foetus out of our minds.

Disability is not an issue that should be touched by those campaigning about the 8th and its potential, and I hope likely, repeal. Using it in a context that fits a specific pro-life agenda is insincere and exploitative, and when discussing the ‘equal right to life’ and equality in general, exaggerating the differences between unborn children and disabled unborn children is wrong. Young people entering the world with Down Syndrome should know that their lives can be as full and accessible as those of any other children, and the pro-life campaign immediately assigns weakness to their character through emphasising their vulnerability when it comes to abortion. No matter what the result of the referendum is on the 25 May 2018, the women of Ireland gained the attention that they deserve over this very personal issue and reproductive rights will continue to be the prominent conversation in gender politics for the foreseeable future.


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