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Bill to ban Down syndrome abortions in Ohio headed to full Senate

(November 14, 2017) — Despite not receiving a party-line vote, the Ohio Senate version of a bill that would ban abortions if the unborn child has Down syndrome moved one step closer to being signed into law.

A bill that would further chip away at abortion in the state is now on its way to a vote by the full Senate after winning initial approval Tuesday in the Health, Human Services and Medicaid Committee in an 8-4 vote. Sen. Stephanie Kunze, R-Hilliard, strayed from her party and voted no.

Senate Bill 164, sponsored by Sen. Frank LaRose, R-Hudson, would prohibit a person from performing or attempting to perform or induce an abortion on a woman whose unborn child has or might have Down syndrome. Violators would face a fourth-degree felony, and the state medical board would be required to take away a convicted physician’s license to practice medicine in Ohio. An identical bill passed in the Ohio House earlier this month, and this is Ohio’s Right to Life’s top legislative priority this year.

“We’re blessed that both chambers of the legislator are on the cusp of passing this bill to get to Gov. Kasich right before Christmas time,” said Ohio Right to Life President Mike Gonidakis.

Down syndrome is a genetic disorder that is caused when abnormal cell division results in an extra full or partial copy of chromosome 21. Those with Down syndrome have an increased risk for medical conditions including congenital heart defects, and 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 1 in 700 babies in the United States is born with it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The committee heard five witnesses before voting — two in favor of the bill, two against the bill and one interested party who remained neutral.

Anne Chasser, whose brother has Down syndrome, testified that when Christopher Chasser was born, doctors recommended that her brother be placed in an institution. Instead, her parents took him home, where he lived until he moved into a group home when he was 29.

“My main concern about this legislation is the impact it would have on women, especially women who do not have the capacity, ability, family support, community network or other resources to provide a productive, happy life for a child with Down syndrome,” Chasser said.

Standing next to two of their daughters, including one with Down syndrome, Larry and Jackie Keough spoke in favor of the bill.

“We ask each of you to support SB 164 that would stop the genocidal practice of aborting unborn children with Down syndrome,” Jackie Keough said. “By doing so, this can be a critical step to eliminate abortion based on individual genetic make up.”

Megan Henry is a fellow in the E.W. Scripps Statehouse News Bureau.