Ohio bill would prohibit abortions in Down syndrome cases

An Ohio bill would prohibit abortions after a fetal Down syndrome diagnosis. Photo courtesy Photo Illustration/CNN

By Tony Marco, CNN

(CNN) -- A bill that could keep women from having abortions after tests reveal that a fetus might have Down syndrome is heading to Ohio Gov. John Kasich's desk.

The bill prohibits abortions after tests reveal Down syndrome in a fetus or if there's "any other reason to believe" the fetus has the genetic condition. A person performing an abortion in such a case could face a fourth-degree felony charge, and physicians could lose their licenses. The woman seeking the abortion would not be held accountable, according to the bill.

Ohio House Bill 214 passed the state Senate on Wednesday by a vote of 20-12. It now will head to Kasich, who has 10 days to sign it. He could also veto it or ignore it, which would be a silent veto.

Jon Keeling, Kasich's press secretary, said the governor would take "a good hard look at the bill" and referred to comments Kasich made in November, when he said that such a bill would be "appropriate."

Similar laws have passed in North Dakota and Indiana, though a federal judge blocked the Indiana law. The North Dakota law went into effect in 2013.

Down syndrome is a genetic condition that affects cognitive ability, causing mild to severe learning disabilities and distinctive facial characteristics. The condition can be diagnosed during pregnancy through prenatal screening tests. Treatment can include speech, occupational, emotional and other therapies; supplements and drugs; and assistive devices.

'It is an issue of discrimination'

Anti-abortion advocates said they think Kasich is probably going to sign the bill and were happy about its progress.

"Ohio Right to Life is grateful that our pro-life senators took a stand against discrimination and abortion," said Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life. "Both the House and the Senate sent a loud message that we are a society built on compassion, love, equality. We expect Gov. Kasich will sign this legislation, as he said he would in 2015. Every Ohioan deserves the right to life, no matter how many chromosomes they have."

Ohio Rep. Sarah LaTourette, a Republican who introduced the House bill, said it's not an abortion issue but rather an issue of discrimination.

"A diagnosis of Down syndrome for your unborn child can be devastating and life-changing. Not everyone is equipped to handle this lifelong commitment, but thankfully, as you can see, there are now many options available to families," she said before the Senate voted on the bill this week.

"I believe that life begins at conception and that abortion should never be considered an option. However, regardless of if you agree with me or not, I hope that you can see that this is not an issue about abortion; it is an issue of discrimination -- discriminating against a person, not allowing them their God-given right to life, simply because they might have Down syndrome."

'What is needed is information, not restrictions'

The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio condemned the bill, saying it would interfere with women's rights to make personal decisions. The group is calling for Kasich to veto the bill.

"We should never force any woman to become a parent against her will or question her decisions about pregnancy. We don't know her circumstances. Shame on our legislators for judging anyone else's decision about something as important as whether to become a parent," said Gary Daniels, chief lobbyist for the ACLU of Ohio. "We urge Gov. Kasich to do the right thing for Ohio women and families and veto this dangerous legislation."

Emily Chesnut, a mother of four from Cincinnati, became a Down syndrome activist after her 6-year-old daughter was diagnosed with the condition. She said she's against the bill as it's written.

"I think they are using Down syndrome as a face to restrict women from having abortions," Chesnut said. She believes that women should have the right to make their own medical decisions and that this bill confuses that issue.

Information is what people need when it comes to Down syndrome, she said.

"I think people who are on both sides would agree we need more information. It's scary when you hear your child is not perfect, but accurate information is the most important," said Chesnut, who previously promoted a bill that required the Ohio Department of Health to have up-to-date Down syndrome information.

When there is a diagnosis, "what is needed is information, not restrictions," she said.


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