Disability rights activist Adrienne Asch passed away last week, only 67 years old.
Asch was always an enigmatic figure to me. Among the disability rights activists, she was particularly strong in her opposition to the abortion of children with disabilities, and to prenatal testing to screen out those children. And yes, she did use the language of “children” to refer to the unborn babies with disabilities.
In spite of this, Asch was also a strong proponent of women’s right to abortion. She made a distinction between a mother who didn’t want to be pregnant and one who did not want a disabled child:
In the first case, her colleague Professor Kittay explained, “you’re not seeking to abort ‘this particular child.’ ” In the second, she said, “when you’re seeking to abort because of disability, it’s not ‘any potential child,’ it’s this child, with these particular characteristics.”
To my thinking, both scenarios locate the child’s value in the mother’s appraisal, not in the inherent worth of the child. That external valuation is the central reality against which Ms. Asch was so active. She presented her own blindness as just one aspect of life, one that should not marginalize her, nor be a reason for aborting children who share her disability.
In spite of this paradox in her thinking, I appreciated her strong stance: “Life with disability is worthwhile and the belief that a just society must appreciate and nurture the lives of all people.” (AmJPubHealth 1999)
In Memoriam, Adrienne Asch from Yeshiva University
Asch, A. (1999). Prenatal diagnosis and selective abortion: A challenge to practice and policy. American Journal of Public Health, 89(11), 1649-1657. Retrieved from http://beck2.med.harvard.edu/week8/asch.pdf