Vice President Harris invites AWN’s Lydia X. Z. Brown to speak at disability and reproductive rights roundtable

July 26, 2022 marked the 32nd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act’s signing into law. To commemorate the occasion, Vice President Kamala Harris invited Lydia X. Z. Brown, AWN’s Director of Policy, Advocacy, & External Affairs, to speak at a roundtable discussion about disability and reproductive rights at the White House. 

Lydia spoke alongside Maria Town, President and CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities; Robin Wilson-Beattie, a disability and sexuality educator; Dior Vargas, a mental health and disability advocate, and founder of the POC and Mental Illness Photo Project; and Sam Crane, Legal Director of Quality Trust for Individuals with Disabilities. All five disabled advocates spoke about issues like higher pregnancy risks for disabled people, histories of forced sterilization, sexual violence against disabled people, the presumption of incompetence, compounded inequities for disabled people because of race and gender, and access to health care. 

These were Lydia’s prepared remarks: 

It was after midnight when the panicked call came. A young autistic person was in the hospital. They’d just given birth. And Child Protective Services was waiting to take their baby away for no reason other than their disability.

Over fifteen years, I’ve witnessed countless stories of reproductive injustice impacting members of my communities – injustices that the Dobbs decision will only exacerbate, with deadly consequences for the most marginalized and vulnerable. Our communities have long reckoned with eugenicist practices like forced sterilization and forced birth – both ways of controlling our bodies and choices.

People with intellectual disabilities, especially in the LGBTQ community, are routinely denied basic sexual education and reproductive health care. Disabled people who are homeless cannot reliably access adequate care with dignity. Disabled people who are incarcerated face forced sterilization and childbirth in chains. Disabled immigrants and refugees struggle to receive accessible, culturally responsive services. And disabled people of color, who are more likely to be poor, struggle to access transportation; affordable, quality care; and reliable broadband connections to access information and make appointments.

Because of the Dobbs decision, disabled people are already facing amplified surveillance. People with autoimmune conditions – which disproportionately affect Black and Brown women – are having pharmacies refuse to fill methotrexate prescriptions for disease management because it could be used to end a pregnancy. When state lawmakers criminalize receiving, providing, or even offering information about abortion care, they incentivize police and private bounty hunters to seek a vast trove of private data that can reveal sensitive health information – from browser and search histories, emails and texts, and location data and data in health apps – putting the most marginalized disabled people at risk of further discrimination and harm.

The fight for reproductive justice requires a commitment to disability justice, gender justice, and technology justice. We must protect people’s reproductive rights, health care access, and digital privacy. Everyone deserves to make choices about their own bodies, including whether to become pregnant and have children. Everyone deserves to know that their health information will stay private instead of going up for sale to the highest bidder. And everyone deserves to have equal access to information about their reproductive health decisions free of state censorship or algorithmic suppression.

The Americans with Disabilities Act promises equal opportunity and access. It’s time for us to fulfill that promise across all aspects of our lives, for all disabled people. 

Lydia X. Z. Brown, AWN Director of Policy, Advocacy, & External Affairs