Tuesday, February 3, 2009

I Google

Sometimes when my brain is too fried to think, or nothing is on TV, I Google. I usually put in the words "disability OR disabilities" and click the News search engine. Sometimes I add a modifier: murder, child, mother, protest, etc. Recently, I found this article in the Salt Lake Tribune by Linda Smith.

I read it; I read it again and I still don't know what to think of it. What do you think of it?

Certain legislators had planned to sponsor legislation to "ban abortion in Utah, period, end of story." Now they are focusing on legislation to create a legal defense fund for a future court battle. They should redirect these efforts.

Most women consider abortion because they worry about the life they can give the child. We could deter abortions by addressing these fears.

Consider the couple who finds that their baby will be born with Down syndrome, the most common genetic anomaly. Most (more than 80 percent nationally) choose to terminate that pregnancy rather than raise a child with intellectual disabilities. What can we do to dissuade this choice?

Today I can advise: "Don't worry, your child will get an education -- but in the worst-funded school system in the country. As an adult, he will be automatically eligible for Supplemental Security Income. This will allow him to live at the poverty level. He'll also be eligible for Medicaid.

"Down syndrome often includes dental abnormalities and vision impairments. Today in Utah we don't offer full dental benefits on Medicaid. Instead of filling cavities or doing root canals, we pull teeth. I guess we figure the disabled won't notice if they can't chew. And they look different anyway.

"We don't provide vision services, either, which can make it difficult to read -- maybe we figure they don't read anyway. Our Medicaid funding is the second lowest in the nation."

The couple might inquire: "Isn't it possible he could have a better quality of life? I've heard some children with Down syndrome hold down jobs and live independently."

I could report: "Yes! An education and a job - are possible. My 23-year-old son took courses at Salt Lake Community College and got an associate credential in child development. He has a job as a preschool aide, which he loves. But if a person with a disability needs more help, say regular job coaching, there is a waiting list of thousands of people for those services.

"This waiting list also limits help to live in the community. Usually adults get housing services only after their parents die and they would otherwise be homeless."

Wouldn't it be better if I could say: "In Utah we put the interests of the neediest first. Even in tough financial times, we don't eliminate important medical, educational and social services for people with disabilities who truly cannot fend for themselves without our help."

Of course, a woman may also consider abortion when her own financial circumstances are insecure. What will we say to her? Two years, maximum, of cash assistance if she is poor and without an income. Maybe subsidized child care … maybe not. No state-supported preschool. And, again, the worst-funded public education system in the nation.

Wouldn't it be better if we could say: "In Utah we invest in the future by putting our children first. We don't just give lip service to family values -- we put our money where our mouth is."

The rest of the nation permits this temporary assistance for up to five years instead of two, and economist Robert Reich recommends that this be extended during the current financial crisis. Wouldn't it be reassuring if Utah lawmakers also wanted to put poor children first?

In these fiscally insecure times, the idea that we should impose across-the-board cuts on all programs raises serious concerns about our moral fiber. Instead, we should examine our priorities and not abandon the weakest. We should fund investments in the future. This is an opportunity to let the public know that Utah invests in the future for its children and cares for the neediest.

Linda Smith is a professor at the S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah, where she directs the clinical program and has taught poverty law. She has a 23-year-old son with Down syndrome and works with Special Olympics.



AmberFRIDA said...

"Most women consider abortion because they worry about the life they can give the child."

Well, who knows if that is in fact true? I don't see a citation of fact. Women consider abortion for a variety of reasons, including not being forced to have a child due to rape. This writer did not address that situation, which is problematic for me when considering the possibility of banning abortion altogether. The abortion situation is bigger than disability, though I am glad the writer took the time to consider the disability fear angle on abortion decision making. It's a valid topic, but again I have a problem with banning all abortion because of what "most" women do.

Chuck said...

I don't think the author is advocating abortion of disabled people. They are rather cleverly highlighting the problems that disabled people have. Do remind me NOT TO MOVE TO UTAH.