When i first read this, i thought it had to be an April Fool's joke (albeit a somewhat offensive one... but one that i would possibly have found funny) - but confirmation from several other sources (such as Body Impolitic and Trinity) has proved to me that it is in fact true:
Massachusetts State Representative Kathi-Anne Reinstein (I'm not totally up-to-date on US legislative stuff, but i'm presuming she is an elected member of the state (as opposed to federal) legislature) has proposed a state-level bill banning distribution of any naked images of any disabled person or any person over 60 - and which explicitly equates any such images with child pornography.
The implications of this are horrific - it implies that any person over 60 or any person with "a permanent or long-term physical or mental impairment that prevents or restricts the individual’s ability to provide for his or her own care or protection" is equivalent to a child in being inherently incapable of consenting to sex or to being photographed naked. This would even apply to disabled people or people over 60 distributing naked images of themselves.
Now, i have spoken to several USians who have assured me that this bill is almost certainly federally unconstitutional and therefore could never be passed (or, if it was, would be struck down by federal authority overriding state authority, or something like that... again, not very sure of US politics here. Yes, i did this stuff at uni. No, i don't remember it...) But the fact that it even got to the stage of being put before the legislature - and, apparently, with the approval of Massachussetts-based disability organisations - is horrific enough.
According to this report, the bill was prompted by a series of cases of nonconsensual sexual exploitation of disabled people, involving nonconsensual photography. However, these kinds of sexual abuse are already crimes, and criminalising consensual images will almost certainly have no effect on them. Equating all sexual images of disabled people with nonconsensual abuse removes all agency from disabled people, and fits right into the insidious (and all the more oppressive for its not being percieved by the general public as oppressive) paradigm of disabled people as inherently "vulnerable", and therefore in need of "protection" that overrides our own choices and wishes - one of the nastiest forms of paternalism. This proves that, in the minds of people in powerful positions like state legislators, disabled people are not fully adult, not fully human.
(This bill would make Sins Invalid illegal in Massachusetts, and much of the work of Mat Fraser, and so many more incredibly awesome, vital, powerful works of the disability arts and disability culture movements... not even to mention the many mainstream films which have featured naked scenes by actors over 60...)
This is why i am a supporter of the Consenting Adult Action Network - not because i am particularly "pro-porn" (in fact, i'm pretty much entirely indifferent to porn - although i can certainly aesthetically appreciate nude or erotic images of attractive people, watching other people actually doing sexual acts is something that i'm simply not at all interested in - if anything, the only effect it has on me is envy at my own lack of opportunity for such activity) - but because anti-porn laws not only restrict free speech, but (much more importantly for me) deny people agency over what they do with their own images and, ultimately, their own bodies. This is one of the most fundamental freedoms that all human beings have - and a law specifically denying it to disabled (and older) people is nothing more and nothing less than institutionalised discrimination and hatred.
(For how hatred of disabled people can differ superficially from hatred of other minorities in ways that can prevent it from being seen as the hatred it is, see this previous post on hate crime.)
For these reasons, it's no surprise at all to me that disabled people and disability activists are extremely prominent in the movement for sexual freedom and autonomy (both in online discourses - e.g. on blogs such as let them eat pro-sm feminist safe spaces and SexAbility - and in offline activism such as CAAN) - fighting against paternalism and for bodily autonomy and acceptance of all adult human beings as capable of being fully consenting agents is completely central to the disability rights movement.
(The Sexual Freedom Coalition is also IMO worth linking here...)
Disabled people are routinely denied any kind of sexual agency or recognition as sexual beings whatsoever (see Dave Hingsburger's blog for far too many examples). I'm not going to try to address the thorny question of whether sex (defined as involving sexual interaction with another person) is a "right", as i really have no idea how to answer the questions of whether something that requires the consent of someone else can be a right, or of whether it's possible for something to be a need but not a right - but sexual expression undoubtedly is a fundamental freedom, in the same way that any other kind of self-expression that doesn't harm others (and no, offence is not harm) is.
I'm glad that this law is unlikely to be passed, but, to my knowledge, if such a bill was to be proposed in the UK (which does not have a Constitution like that of the US to protect "free speech"), there could well be nothing stopping it from being passed here. (The Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, which banned "extreme porn" in the UK, would very probably have been unconstitutional in the US on the same grounds as this Massachusetts bill.) This is our fight, whether or not we want to see it as such...
Biodiverse Resistance (USA), 4th April 2009