COLUMBUS, Ohio — An Ohio bill hopes to stop abortions undertaken solely because an unborn child has Down syndrome.
“It’s very concerning to think that some lives would be judged as less valuable than others,” said Sen. Frank LaRose, R-Hudson, according to The Associated Press. LaRose is the sponsor of the Ohio Senate version of the bill.
Ohio Senate Bill 164 and House Bill 214 both aim to stop doctors from performing abortions “if the person has knowledge that the pregnant woman is seeking the abortion solely because” the unborn child has been diagnosed with Down syndrome.
The bill would not punish any mothers who seek an abortion after a prenatal Down syndrome diagnosis.
Doctors who violate the restriction by attempting to abort children because of their Down syndrome diagnosis would be charged with a fourth-degree felony, and the state medical board will be required to revoke their license. They would also be held accountable for legal fees and charges.
Down syndrome, or Trisomy 21, is a common genetic disorder, caused when a child’s DNA contains an extra full or partial copy of Chromosome 21. It affects roughly one in 700 babies born in the United States, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The condition can result in intellectual and physical delays and disabilities and can result in increased risks of congenital heart defects, thyroid conditions, childhood leukemia and Alzheimer’s disease. Thanks to improved health care treatments and educational approaches, children born with Down syndrome now have a life expectancy of around 60 years, and more options for employment and independent living are available to them.
According to a 2012 study on termination rates of people with Down syndrome, around 75% of expectant mothers whose babies have a confirmed prenatal Down syndrome diagnosis terminate the pregnancy. Roughly 5% of women receive the most sensitive and invasive Down syndrome test, but other, less invasive testing methods have improved their accuracy and broadened the number of women receiving some form of Down syndrome testing.
According to research coordinated by Massachusetts General Hospital, voluntary termination has contributed to a drop somewhere between 26% and 52% in the number of babies expected to be born with Down syndrome.
It is still unclear which prenatal tests the bill will consider to be proof of a Down syndrome diagnosis or how this bill will impact prenatal testing in the state more broadly.
If passed, Ohio will not be the first state to ban abortion for reasons of ability or genetic factors. Arizona, Kansas, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and South Dakota already ban sex-selective abortions, and Arizona bans abortion on the grounds of race. North Dakota bans abortion in cases of genetic abnormality. Indiana, Missouri and South Dakota have also considered banning abortion after diagnoses of Down syndrome (though a judge recently ruled to overturn that and related bans in Indiana).
In June 2016, Pope Francis said that those who seek to “eliminate” disabled people “fail to understand the real meaning of life, which also has to do with accepting suffering and limitations.”
And people with Down syndrome consistently report they live happy and full lives.