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Ohio House panel OKs ban on abortions for Down syndrome
By Megan Henry
(October 25, 2017) — In the past seven years, the Ohio legislature and Gov. John Kasich have enacted 19 bills chipping away at abortion rights.
Number 20 may be on the way.
A ban on abortions performed because the child that would be born might have Down syndrome won initial approval Wednesday on its way to a vote by the full House.
The measure would prohibit a person from performing or attempting to perform or induce an abortion on a woman whose fetus has or might have Down syndrome passed the Ohio House Health Committee.
House Bill 214, sponsored by Reps. Sarah LaTourette, R-Chesterland, and Derek Merrin, R-Monclova Township, was approved on a 12-6 party-line vote.
“It’s a good day for Ohio,” said Ohio Right to Life President Mike Gonidakis.
In his eyes, the bill — Right to Life’s top priority this legislative session — is more about discrimination than abortion.
“We are going to stop discriminating against people with special needs and this is the next step to getting this to Gov. Kasich,” Gonidakis said.
Violators of the bill would face a fourth-degree felony. The state medical board would be required to take away a convicted physician’s license to practice medicine in Ohio.
“Its unfortunate that members of the Republican caucus are choosing to support his cruel and unconstitutional abortion ban,” said NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio spokesman Gabriel Mann. “They made the wrong decision today.”
LaTourette defended her bill, arguing it is about more than just abortion.
“When you hear the statistic that 90 percent of women choose abortion because of this potential diagnosis, there’s an obvious problem,” LaTourette said. “I truly believe that is about discriminating against some of our most vulnerable, discriminating against an unborn child simply because they might have a Down syndrome diagnosis.”
One of Rep. Emilia Strong Sykes’ primary concerns with the bill is what the legal process would look like.
“We have not yet heard from anyone who has given testimony nor the sponsors about how the legal process will work is totally and completely offensive to the legal process,” the Akron Democrat said.
Before voting on the bill, three proposed amendments to the bill were tabled. They included increasing funding for special education, not requiring a woman to disclose the reason for seeking an abortion, and giving Medicaid to a woman and the child she delivered whether she qualifies or not.
Down syndrome is a genetic disorder that is caused when abnormal cell division results in an extra full or partial copy of chromosome 21. People with Down syndrome have an increased risk for some medical conditions including congenital heart defects, respiratory and hearing problems, Alzheimer’s disease, childhood leukemia and thyroid conditions.
Down syndrome is the most common chromosomal condition in the United States; about one in every 700 babies in the United States is born with it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Termination rates following a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome ranged from 67 to 85 percent depending on maternal age, race and ethnicity, and gestational age, according to a review published in 2012.
An identical bill is pending in the Senate.
Seven states — Arizona, Kansas, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and South Dakota — ban abortions for sex selection. Arizona enacted legislation prohibiting a woman from receiving an abortion because of race. In 2013, North Dakota became the first state to prohibit abortions in cases of genetic abnormality.
Then-Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed a law in March 2016 that prohibits abortions sought solely because a fetus had been potentially diagnosed with a disability such as Down syndrome. However, U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Walton Pratt suspended the law from taking effect months after Pence signed it, ruling that its provisions violate the U.S. Constitution. That ruling is under appeal.
Megan Henry is a fellow in the E.W. Scripps Statehouse News Bureau.