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Abortion as the "Kinder Choice": Able-Bodied Rhetoric, Veganism, and Reproductive Ethics


I am stating my social and ability position right now: I am an ‘able-bodied’ USA born woman and have been ‘able-bodied’ my entire life. I know I benefit from structural ableism, and as a child and younger adult, I was unaware of just how much being constructed as an ‘able-bodied’ human being ‘earned’ me privileges of being seen as ‘productive’

In addition, I have had slim-body privilege my entire adult life. I bring this up because ‘being fat’ or ‘obese’ has really shifted in the USA over the past decade: it is now common for a significant number of medical and alternative health communities to suggest that ‘being fat’ equals ‘disabled body’ which are then constructed  as being ‘inferior’ and ‘impure.’ 

I actually want to start a spin-off dialogue about what it means for able-bodied vegans to construct being “kinder” with “harmlessness” (principles of Ahimsa based veganism) and then making the argument that a life of “living with a disability” would be “cruel”; hence, if one can “prevent” this “happening” to a fetus (in utero), they should seriously consider abortion.

“But that said, I do think that sometimes there are times when abortion may be a kinder choice. Sometimes there might be medical reasons for an abortion. Maybe the unborn child gets diagnosed with a really severe disability which will mean a very unhappy and/or short life for the child. ” -emily

Thank you for those of you who joined the discussion “Vegans: Are you ‘pro-life’, ‘pro-choice’, or have an alternative perspective on abortion?” that I posted on June 25, 2013.  The quote above was one of over 40 comments posted on the June 25 blog topic. It made me think of several things:

  1. Who determines what a ‘really severe’ disability is?

  2. Is a life of happiness only possible if a fetus is determined to meet some benchmark of ‘healthy’?

  3. Most importantly, are you a person who was born as being diagnosed with a disability or disabilities, and how has this lived experienced, as well as living in a society of structural ableism (at least here in the USA) informed your own sense of Ahimsa, kindness, living a life of happiness etc, as well as the argument by able-bodied people about promoting abortion for “disabled” fetuses?

Even though Emily’s statement is focusing on ‘severe disability’, I do not know much about Emily. After all, emily could be a person living with disability too, but I’m wondering if this person speaks from the positionality of not being ‘diagnosed’ as ‘severely disabled’.  Furthermore, and even though it is not completely the same premise that reflects Emily’s comments, I have found the rhetoric of ableism quite pervasive in the mainstream vegan movement in the USA. There is an overal fear of how certain eating habits will or will not create a ‘pure’ or ‘impure’ human being. Such ‘purity’ rhetoric not only focuses on ‘disability’, but also traits such as ‘being tall’ and  ‘being slender’ as being an ‘abled body’. For example, I can’t tell you how many times I come across these assumptions about what makes a ‘superior’ or ‘healthy child, particularly through dietary habits amongst those who practice veganism, vegetarianism, and raw foods:

  1. Eating a plant-based diet has been shown to increase IQ, so be sure to go vegan or vegetarian while pregnant! (What you’re really saying—> Because only ‘smart’ children, whose intellect is based on a socially constructed test, are most productive and contribute the most to society)

  2. Eating a plant-based diet rich in protein and greens has been proven to make sure your child will be tall and slender (What you’re really saying—? Because short and/or children who are ‘fat’ are not going to be happy and are not superior to tall slender children).

(Updated on July 6, 8:35 am PST) So, here’s the thing: I am not asking people to necessarily start a dialogue about whether or not the person carrying an embryo or fetus SHOULD OR SHOULD not abort. This post is more about how particular regions, cultures, eras, etc., in the USA PRODUCE rhetoric around who is ‘normal’, ‘healthy’, and ‘able-bodied. Hence how does this normalized rhetoric influence our perceptions and ethical belief systems when making choices about their pregnancy and birthing? How does this influence how we perceive and relate to themselves (whether they have been ‘diagnosed’ as an abled bodied or a disabled bodied person)? This dialogue, doesn’t have to be focused on the pro-choice and pro-life debate, but rather, it can also engage in serious and mindful dialogue around the reality that here in the USA at least, there is a strong rhetoric of ‘fear’ and ‘panic’ when potential human beings (embryo and fetuses), as well as living ‘post-birth’ human beings, do not fit into socially accepted norms of ‘able-bodied’.

So, let’s talk about this, and I’m going to ask, if you are comfortable, to state you social and ability locations like I did. If you are unfamiliar with the goals of Sistah Vegan, we seriously engage in how our social, geographical, etc locations affect our experiences, consciousness, and how we view our reality.

In addition, if you’re interested in hearing more about applications of disability studies and vegan studies, I invite you to join the first annual Sistah Vegan conference, which takes place as an interactive web conference on September 14, 2013. Click here to learn more about it: Sistah Vegan Conference, September 14 2013.  If you enjoy the work of the Sistah Vegan Project, please help us become an official non-profit organization. Please contribute what you can by clicking on the GOFUNDME Link below. If you do not want to use this method, but prefer paypal, click on the link on the right upper corner of this blog page to donate via PAYPAL.


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