The Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade sparks other worries

 The Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v.  Wade sparks other worries

The blockbuster Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, ending the constitutional right to an abortion, worries advocates for people with disabilities, but for reasons unrelated to reproductive rights.

The advocates say the court’s reasoning in the June abortion case – Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization – could also threaten important rights benefiting people in the disabled community, which wrapped up Disability Pride Month in July.

In Dobbs, the Supreme Court overruled precedent to conclude the “Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision, including … the due process clause of the 14th Amendment.”

As rights advocates quickly noted afterwards, the nation’s most significant civil rights victories for people with disabilities, set forth in the court’s 1999 decision in Olmstead v. LC, could fall under the precedent-nixing legal framework advanced in the abortion case.

WNYC Morning Edition host Michael Hill discussed the recent court action with Bruce Darling, president and CEO of the Center for Disability Rights, which is based in Albany. Their conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and content.

How could the ruling on abortion impact the disabilities community beyond the realm of reproductive rights?

So, the far-right shift of the court is making us anxious because, frankly, the Olmstead decision is the only thing that preserves disability freedom. Disabled people have the right to live in freedom because the Supreme Court assessed the Americans with Disabilities Act in Olmstead and decided that the law supported the right of people with disabilities to live in the most integrated community setting possible, rather than in institutions. The Supreme Court, in the June case overturning Roe, has demonstrated that it’ll turn in the other direction, and go 180 degrees. [The CDR said in the recent statement that the Olmstead decision may not be put directly put at risk by the Dobbs abortion ruling, but the June decision “underscores how rights granted solely through court decisions, including the right of disabled Americans to live in freedom, are precarious.”]

What would the loss of these protections mean? You’ve mentioned that ‘long-term services and supports’ for people with disabilities could be threatened.

Receiving long-term services and supports in the community, as a right, is only affirmed by the Supreme Court decision in Olmstead, and only one Supreme Court justice who was on the case, Justice [Clarence] Thomas, remains, and he clearly identified his arguments against why, in his dissent, Olmstead should stand. So we are concerned that the Supreme Court will actually reverse direction. And then basically people, states, and managed care companies will have the right to be able to say, ‘we don’t wanna serve you in the community anymore. Disabled person, go into the institution, losing your freedom, your life, and everything that you value.’ [The CDR statement noted that the Supreme Court in the Dobbs ruling “decided – under the framework of ‘orginalism’ – that the only rights protected under the Constitution are the rights that would have been understood by the individuals who wrote the Constitution (in 1788) and the 14th Amendment (in 1868).” It adds, “Were the writers of the 14th Amendment considering the implications for people who used attendant services, mobility devices, feeding tubes, and ventilators? Absolutely not.”]

Do you really believe states would pull back on these services?

I most certainly do. I live in a state that does that. In New York, people used to be able to get significant levels of support to live in the community, and with the move toward managed care, we’ve seen managed care companies rip services out from underneath disabled people. That has been something that’s happening now. And that’s something that we’re fighting against. And it’s painful to listen to family members say, ‘I guess it’s just time for Mom to go away and to be institutionalized.’ So, we are seeing that now. And it is happening all over the country.

Your organization has been pushing something called the federal Latonya Reeves Freedom Act as an answer. What would the act accomplish?

It would enshrine in statute the right of disabled Americans to live in freedom. If a managed care company or a state will pay to institutionalize you, it must pay for the services and supports that allow you to live in freedom. And that means they can’t cap the number of hours, restrict the type of services or force you into a congregate setting during the day where you have to sit basically in a group of people and wait to go to the bath.

Where does the measure stand?

We have 140 co-sponsors in the House and 14 in the Senate. We’re continuing to push forward for this. And just as a note, this is a bipartisan bill in the house. It was introduced last session by a Republican, which is why we think it was stalled in the House. But the deal actually will do what we need to do to allow people to live in freedom.

Is this bill getting any support from the White House?

They have not, to our knowledge, expressed support for the bill. Our hope is that the Biden administration will look at the situation now with the turn of the Supreme Court and fully endorse the right to disabled people to live in freedom.

It’s a little controversial in some segments of the progressive community because unions, institutional unions, want to preserve those jobs. And we understand that. But we don’t think any specific issue like that should prevent disabled Americans from living in freedom.

Bruce Darling is President and CEO of the Center for Disability Rights. Bruce, come back and talk to us again once there’s some action on this bill, please.

Absolutely. Thank you.

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