"As Long as It's Healthy...": Prenatal Health, Disability and Biopower

It appears your Web browser is not configured to display PDF files. Download adobe Acrobat or click here to download the PDF file.

Click here to download the PDF file.


Cardin, Melodie




The past thirty years have seen widespread adoption of prenatal testing technologies used to detect potential disabilities in fetuses (Lupton, 2011; Rapp, 2011; Tremain, 2006; Weir, 1996). The increased routinization of prenatal testing and the discourse of responsible motherhood coupled with discourses which portray disabled lives as burdensome and full of suffering and pain have increased anxiety in pregnancy. In this dissertation, I employ a Foucauldian feminist analysis and an affirmation/social model of disability (Oliver, 1996; Shakespeare, 2006; Swain & French, 2000) to consider how prenatal testing technologies have bolstered and reinforced medical power and authority; I explore how these factors in tandem with a pervasive language of "risk" have had a profound effect on pregnant people's experiences. As Critical Disability scholars have argued (Gibson, 2015; Meehan, 2009), prenatal testing mirrors the official, state-sanctioned historical eugenics programs deployed against disabled people in countries such as Canada and the United States. This dissertation argues prenatal testing techniques constitute a biopolitical tool which operates through widespread and pervasive ableist discourses to eradicate certain disabilities (Fritsch, 2015; Gibson, 2015; Goodley & Runswick-Cole, 2016; Mitchell & Snyder, 2003). This reproduces many of the difficulties associated with disability, in terms of both stigmatizing attitudes and failure to adequately support and meaningfully include disabled people. It also significantly affects pregnant people's experiences, fostering anxiety due to internalized fears of producing a baby that does not conform to norms of ability and "health." This dissertation employed semi-structured interviews with recently pregnant people in Ottawa, ON, and Foucauldian discourse analysis of online pregnancy forums and Twitter. It sought to understand how experiences of pregnancy have been affected by prenatal testing, and how discourses of disability as "abnormal," and of mothers as primarily responsible for parenthood have impacted their decisions around testing and termination. This research found a continued framing by medical professionals of disability as tragic, and a lack of adequate supports for parents of disabled children leading to further ableism and fear around having disabled children; moreover, participants expressed a profound sense of anxiety related to testing results and a lack of agency in opting out.


Mass Communications
Gender Studies
Medical and Forensic Anthropology




Carleton University

Thesis Degree Name: 

Doctor of Philosophy: 

Thesis Degree Level: 


Thesis Degree Discipline: 


Parent Collection: 

Theses and Dissertations

Items in CURVE are protected by copyright, with all rights reserved, unless otherwise indicated. They are made available with permission from the author(s).