Disability Advocates Fear Republican House Takeover: ‘We Are Still Very Much In Danger’

by | Nov 18, 2022 | Politics

With Republicans set to take control of the U.S. House of Representatives in January, the disability community is worried about potentially catastrophic repercussions for abortion rights, health care and social services. “We will continue to fear every election where major seats may be up for grabs that could change the political landscape for disabled folks,” said Leslie Templeton, co-founder of the Disabled and Pro-Choice Coalition.AdvertisementRepublicans have made it clear that they want to undo aspects of the Inflation Reduction Act, including the cap on insulin prices for Medicare beneficiaries. GOP leaders have also suggested cutting disability safety nets like Social Security rather than strengthening them ― all while Americans are facing an ongoing pandemic that increasingly is being ignored by policymakers, noted Matthew Cortland, a senior fellow at the polling firm Data for Progress.Meanwhile, Republicans are going after abortion rights nationwide, which Templeton said was a particular concern for many in the disability community ahead of the midterms. Access to abortions disproportionately affects the disability community: Research shows that disabled people are at higher risk for complications in pregnancy and childbirth, and a 2017 study from the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that disabled people were nearly three times more likely to experience sexual assault than non-disabled people.“I think people are really passionate about [abortion access], especially within the disability community, because our lives are at risk, our well-being is our risk, and it’s criminalizing our bodies,” Templeton said.Five states had abortion-related ballot initiatives this year. While each state voted in favor of reproductive rights, disability advocates point to those battles as a warning of future threats.AdvertisementAnd with the GOP’s recent takeover of the House, the threat is much more real. On Monday ― before Republicans solidified their win of the House ― President Joe Biden said that unless Democrats maintained the majority, there wouldn’t be enough votes to pass legislation to codify abortion rights formerly protected by Roe v. Wade. The office of House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), who is set to be the next speaker, did not respond to a request for comment on this article. In the two years since President Donald Trump left office, the Biden administration has worked hard to undo his damage, particularly to his “hollowing out of federal agencies,” said Amber Smock, director of advocacy at Access Living, an organization that provides services to and advocates for disabled people. “My concern is that two years from now, all of that work could go down the drains,” Smock said.Democrats maintained control of the Senate, and Biden is only halfway through his term. While a major catastrophe was averted, disabled people still aren’t in the clear: A Republican majority in Congress could compromise efforts made to protect policies that benefit disabled people, Cortland said.“Despite one in four American adults having a disability, we are considered disposable to far too many elected leaders and policymakers,” Cortland said. “I think we narrowly avoided a worst-case scenario in which the worst sorts of fascist, ableist policies would have been enacted by MAGA extremists. But for me, we are still very much in danger.”AdvertisementHow Republicans Evolved Backward On Disability RightsCortland said the Republican Party has changed over the years on disability support.Former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) was instrumental in pushing for disability rights and policies when he was in office from 1969 to 1996. As the Senate majority leader at that time, Dole joined with Democrats in a bipartisan effort to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which Republican President George H.W. Bush signed into law in 1990.President George H.W. Bush, a Republican, signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law in 1990.Ron Sachs/CNP/Getty ImagesOver the past few years, Republican lawmakers have tried to scale back the monumental disability rights law. In 2017, Republicans proposed the ADA Education and Reform Act, which disability and civil rights advocates said could weaken the ADA. Republicans aren’t just threatening policies that protect the disability community ― they are also mocking accessibility in general, said Templeton, who has spoken about disability and abortion at the White House. In July, for example, Vice President Kamala Harris provided an image description of herself during a roundtable discussion, an act that sparked praise from the disability community and mockery from Republicans.Last month, disability advocates criticized Pennsylvania Republican Senate candidate Mehmet Oz and members of the media for ableist comments about Democratic candidate and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman’s use of closed captioning after he experienced a stroke. In September, retiring Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) attacked Fetterman for not debating his opponent due to health reasons, labeling him “too sick” to serve as a senator. AdvertisementTrump has made fun of Biden’s stutter. (Notably, disabled people also have called out Demo …

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