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‘It Can Kill Us’: Protester On The Dire Cost Of Forced Birth For People With Disabilities

WASHINGTON ― Armed with a sign and tons of water, Renee Schmidt stood in front of the Supreme Court this weekend to protest the repeal of Roe v. Wade. Even the extremely hot day wouldn’t keep her from expressing her anger over the court’s unprecedented move.

Abortion is essential health care, especially for people with disabilities, the 22-year-old from Arlington, Virginia, told HuffPost. Schmidt, who was wearing a neck brace and holding a cane on Saturday, has several medical conditions, including Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which affects the connective tissue in the body and causes the joints to become overly flexible.

“If you don’t know what these are, don’t legislate my healthcare: Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, atlanto-axial instability, craniocervical instability, chiari malformation type 1,” her sign read.

Pregnancy could be a death sentence for people with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, Schmidt said.

“A lot of women with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, when they give birth, will dislocate their hips and other parts of their spine sometimes,” she said. “For me, I would most likely dislocate my spine if I was forced to go through birth. And that would obviously paralyze me. If I ever do want to have a kid, I’d have to have it planned down to a T.”

“Not only can [pregnancy] further disable us, it can kill us,” Schmidt said. “It’s the same for all women, actually. All women can be disabled by pregnancy, all women can die from pregnancy. … When these mothers die in childbirth, who is going to take care of the children?”

Before the fall of Roe, maternal mortality rates were already extremely high in the U.S. — especially for Black women, who are three to four times more likely than white women to die due to pregnancy and childbirth complications. Mississippi — the state that brought the case that overturned Roe — has the worst maternal and infant mortality rates, especially for Black mothers and infants: It’s 75 times more deadly to carry a pregnancy to term there than it is to get an abortion.

Disabled people are at a much higher risk of dying from pregnancy and childbirth than their non-disabled counterparts, according to a 2021 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Disabled women were at a higher risk of blood clots, infection and hemorrhaging during pregnancy and birth, according to the study, and are 11 times more likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth than non-disabled women.

“When we’re talking about this post-Roe world where Justice Alito has confirmed that a state’s interest in fetal life justifies complete bans on abortion, we are erasing the fact that a very significant portion of the population live ― both before pregnancy and during pregnancy ― with significant disabilities of all kinds,” said Dana Sussman, acting executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women. “If the state’s interest in fetal life allows for complete bans on access to abortion care, we are putting their lives at risk.”

“The message that this decision sends is that people with the capacity for pregnancy … their lives and welfare do not matter as much as the state’s interest in fetal life,” she added.

Schmidt’s mother, Tonya Schmidt, protested alongside her daughter. She told HuffPost it was “heartbreaking” to see federal protections to abortion care be overturned.

“I’m just shocked that my children are not going to grow up with Roe v. Wade,” said Tonya, who has two daughters and a transgender son who can also get pregnant.

The Supreme Court handed down its ruling overturning Roe in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization on Friday morning. The opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito, was in line with the draft ruling published by Politico in early May that revealed the conservative majority was poised to overturn Roe.

Protests erupted nationwide in response to the ruling that overturned nearly 50 years of precedent. In the days since Roe fell, at least eight states have banned abortion by enacting trigger laws. Similar laws severely restricting or banning abortion are expected to go into effect in other states in the coming days and weeks.

More on the Supreme Court abortion ruling:

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