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Abnormal medical bodies: sterilisation of women and girls with disability and the incomprehensibility of discrimination

Conference Paper


Abstract


  • Over the past 20 years Australian disability advocates have lobbied for the introduction of legislation prohibiting sterilisation of women and girls with disability. One of the arguments in support of prohibition is that sterilisation constitutes discrimination against women and girls with disability. Yet the Australian government has resisted introducing legislation to explicitly prohibit sterilisation and has supported the continuation of legal frameworks regulating sterilisation through court authorisation. I draw on critical disability studies and feminist legal theory to examine the arguments against sterilisation as discrimination, focussing on three documents: the leading High Court decision on sterilisation Marion’s Case (1992) 175 CLR 218, the Full Family Court decision of Re P (1995) 126 FLR 245, and the recent 2013 Senate Community Affairs References Committee report Inquiry into the Involuntary or Coerced Sterilisation of People with Disabilities in Australia. I argue that in each of these documents women and girls with disability are considered incomparable to individuals without disability such that discrimination through sterilisation is incomprehensible. Women and girls with disability are constructed as abnormal: as different in kind and the absolute other to individuals without a disability. This construction has three key implications: (1) women and girls with disability can be located in a discrete legal space subject to its own standards of acceptable treatment and violence, (2) these standards are informed by a drive to manage abnormality through medical intervention, and (3) perversely, sterilisation becomes a benevolent medical procedure which can support the realisation of the rights of women and girls with disability.

Publication Date


  • 2015

Citation


  • Steele, L. Roslyn. (2015). Abnormal medical bodies: sterilisation of women and girls with disability and the incomprehensibility of discrimination. Symposium on Feminist Perspectives on Medical Bodies (p. xx). Wollongong: University of Wollongong.

Start Page


  • xx

Place Of Publication


  • http://lha.uow.edu.au/content/groups/public/@web/@lha/@law/documents/doc/uow184931.pdf

Abstract


  • Over the past 20 years Australian disability advocates have lobbied for the introduction of legislation prohibiting sterilisation of women and girls with disability. One of the arguments in support of prohibition is that sterilisation constitutes discrimination against women and girls with disability. Yet the Australian government has resisted introducing legislation to explicitly prohibit sterilisation and has supported the continuation of legal frameworks regulating sterilisation through court authorisation. I draw on critical disability studies and feminist legal theory to examine the arguments against sterilisation as discrimination, focussing on three documents: the leading High Court decision on sterilisation Marion’s Case (1992) 175 CLR 218, the Full Family Court decision of Re P (1995) 126 FLR 245, and the recent 2013 Senate Community Affairs References Committee report Inquiry into the Involuntary or Coerced Sterilisation of People with Disabilities in Australia. I argue that in each of these documents women and girls with disability are considered incomparable to individuals without disability such that discrimination through sterilisation is incomprehensible. Women and girls with disability are constructed as abnormal: as different in kind and the absolute other to individuals without a disability. This construction has three key implications: (1) women and girls with disability can be located in a discrete legal space subject to its own standards of acceptable treatment and violence, (2) these standards are informed by a drive to manage abnormality through medical intervention, and (3) perversely, sterilisation becomes a benevolent medical procedure which can support the realisation of the rights of women and girls with disability.

Publication Date


  • 2015

Citation


  • Steele, L. Roslyn. (2015). Abnormal medical bodies: sterilisation of women and girls with disability and the incomprehensibility of discrimination. Symposium on Feminist Perspectives on Medical Bodies (p. xx). Wollongong: University of Wollongong.

Start Page


  • xx

Place Of Publication


  • http://lha.uow.edu.au/content/groups/public/@web/@lha/@law/documents/doc/uow184931.pdf