It became clear that my daughter Claire would face a lifetime of struggle when she was just a few days old. By her first birthday, she’d already endured multiple MRIs, a CT scan, a spinal tap, heart surgery, medications costing upward of $5,000 per month and multiple therapy sessions per week.
Fortunately, before she turned 5, Claire qualified for Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act was passed. I breathed a sigh of relief knowing my daughter would always be able to get the medical care she needed, in spite of the pre-existing conditions she was born with and regardless of ability to pay.
Nevertheless, I worried about Claire’s future and the real possibility that she would outlive me. And I had good reason to worry: Just a year after my daughter was born, a group of individuals with intellectual disabilities brought a lawsuit against the District of Columbia, where we live. In Doe Tarlow v. District of Coumbia., they argued that the government shouldn’t be able to force them to undergo elective procedures, including eye surgery and abortion, without first attempting to get their input.
They lost that 2007 case. This meant my daughter’s future was left in the hands of people who don’t consider her worthy of asking her own opinion before potentially subjecting her to unnecessary medical procedures that carry very serious risks (especially for someone like Claire, who is already medically complex).
And you know who wrote the decision in that case, the one upholding D.C.’s practice of not allowing the very people undergoing surgery or abortion to express their wishes before being subjected to invasive procedures?
The man whose confirmation hearings for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court are set to begin in the coming weeks.
The D.C. decision demonstrates just one of Kavanaugh’s many troubling positions, including, more recently, his threat that he would dismantle the Affordable Care Act if given the chance.
Such a move would be disastrous for my daughter. Without the ACA, obtaining private health insurance for Claire would be prohibitively expensive, if not impossible.
I fear many of the rights in place to protect and give equal treatment to individuals with disabilities would be on the chopping block with Kavanaugh on the court.
What’s more, while there’s no doubt that Claire lacks the capacity to make medical decisions for herself, she does have preferences, and she’s able to express them ― a skill that’s getting stronger every year. The idea of her living in a world where Judge Kavanaugh’s ruling means she isn’t even consulted before potentially life-altering elective procedures are performed on her is nothing less than chilling.
Though I am vehemently for abortion rights myself, it haunts me to know we may soon have a Supreme Court justice who believes Claire and others with intellectual disabilities don’t deserve to be asked whether or not they want to have an abortion. I cannot reconcile the fact that the same man who claims to respect all life is also willing to allow medical procedures to be performed on an entire class of people without even asking them how they feel about it first.
Kavanaugh’s decision is still the law in D.C., and with Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court justice, it could soon become the law of the land. With this man on the bench, America could very well return to a time in which forced sterilizations or medical experimentation on disabled individuals is the norm.
Furthermore, if Kavanagh believes Claire and others like her don’t have the right to express a preference when it comes to optional medical treatments, it’s not a stretch to worry this man would also rule that other rights I thought were secure ― like Claire’s right to live within the community if she so desires, rather than in an institution ― are in danger as well. I fear many of the rights in place to protect and give equal treatment to individuals with disabilities would be on the chopping block with Kavanaugh on the court.
Brett Kavanagh and I are similar in many ways. We live in the same community. My younger daughter attended preschool right across the street from the church where his daughters attend school. The Starbucks I frequent is just a few doors down from the bar where he is a regular. We both have children who play basketball in the same Washington, D.C., suburb. We both have two daughters.
But while his daughters are thriving, one of my mine faces significant struggles. She relies on government protections for access to health care and equal treatment ― protections the future of which would be in his hands if he were confirmed to the Supreme Court. Here, our views couldn’t differ more.
It’s clear Kavanagh has no regard for my daughter’s rights to health care and self-determination. His confirmation could move America backward by at least a century for the rights of individuals with disabilities ― rights they and their advocates have fought hard to win. And Claire doesn’t deserve to be treated like a second-class citizen.
At a minimum, Americans deserve a Supreme Court justice who rejects the notion of forced abortions and other elective medical procedures without getting input from the patient first; who believes in providing equal protections for people with intellectual disabilities.
Senators, don’t admit this man onto the highest court in the land.
Jamie Davis Smith is a photographer, writer and mother of four based in Washington, D.C.