The Hill

Ohio Moves Forward With Abortion Ban For Down Syndrome Babies; Should Disability Be A Factor In Abortion?

child with down syndrome
A new Ohio bill might ban abortions of Down syndrome babies. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

In Ohio, a new bill that would ban Down syndrome abortions might soon be approved. The bill would prevent women from terminating a pregnancy if their child has Down syndrome, on the grounds that it’s discriminatory.

While Ohio is generally pro-life, anti-abortion activists have championed the new bill to pass sometime this fall if Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) signs it. As of now, Kasich hasn’t taken a specific stance on the bill. One in every 691 babies in the U.S. are born with Down syndrome, and it’s the most common genetic disorder, according to the National Down Syndrome Society.

“Choosing to end a person’s life simply because of this diagnosis is discrimination, period,” Rep. Sarah LaTourette (R ), an advocate of the bill, said. “I believe that life begins at conception and that abortion is wrong. But regardless of if you agree with me or not, I hope that you can see that this isn’t an issue about abortion — it’s an issue of discrimination.”

In the U.S. and especially in developing countries, misinformation and stigma about Down syndrome often negatively impacts those who are born with the disease, which is caused by an extra copy of chromosome 21. In one case, the Armenian mother of a Down syndrome infant divorced the father due to her unwillingness to keep the child, which brought the issue into the spotlight earlier this year. Currently, some 50 to 85 percent of Down syndrome pregnancies are aborted, according to a study that reviewed research between 1995 and 2011.

Disability Abortions

In ethics, disability abortions are a huge gray area. There are several different arguments. One is that allowing disability as a reason for abortion would imply that disabled people are less valued or worth the effort than normal people. Others might argue that aborting a child solely on the grounds that he/she has a disability goes in line with eugenic abortions — or the desire to eliminate “bad seeds” or genes from the human race. Those who advocate for disability-selective abortions, meanwhile, claim that aborting a child with Down syndrome or other disabilities is for the sake of the child themselves — believing that their quality of life would be lower than that of a normal person.

Critics of Ohio’s proposed bill believe it is a ludicrous attempt by anti-abortion activists to enact more control over women’s choices. Roe v. Wade dictates that women have a right under the 14th amendment to the Constitution to undergo an abortion — whether it’s for health-related reasons, or because they’re unprepared to take care of a child. It has become routine for doctors to check for congenital defects or disabilities in fetuses, then allow the parents to make the decision to either keep the baby or abort it.

“These legislative proposals interfere with the doctor-patient relationship and exploit complicated issues that can arise during pregnancy in the worst way,” Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “Medical decisions should not be made in the Statehouse, they should be made in doctors’ offices based on sound medical science.”

Indeed, women with low-paying jobs, unstable home lives, or no education may want to undergo an abortion anyway — whether or not the child has Down syndrome. Banning all Down syndrome abortions on the assumption that it’s discriminatory doesn’t take into account the number of cases that are far more complex, and cases where an abortion would truly benefit the mother.

People with Down syndrome can live normal, happy lives. Take Madeline Stuart, for example: an 18-year-old with Down syndrome whose fashion sense is top notch, and took part of New York Fashion Week this year. But banning Down syndrome abortions might not help remove the stigma or fight for disabilities rights. As one father of a child with Down syndrome wrote on CNN, “If you want to help people with Down syndrome, don’t politicize their births. Instead, get to work building a more inclusive society.”

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