Utah bill would ban abortions based on Down syndrome
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A Utah lawmaker introduced legislation Monday to bar doctors from performing abortions sought because the fetus has Down syndrome, despite legislative lawyers warning that a court likely would find it unconstitutional.
Republican Rep. Karianne Lisonbee of Clearfield said such abortions discriminate against a group of people who have a right to exist.
“It is a eugenic-like eradication that is happening with a greater frequency worldwide,” Lisonbee said at a press conference.
The measure would make it a misdemeanor for a doctor to perform an abortion knowing that the pregnant woman is seeking it because of a diagnosis or suspicion that the fetus has Down syndrome. The genetic abnormality can cause developmental delays and medical conditions like respiratory and hearing problems and heart defects.
Doctors could face up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine under the proposal, but women seeking such abortions would not be charged.
North Dakota, Ohio, Louisiana and Indiana have passed similar laws, and lawmakers in Arkansas and Mississippi are working on adopting them.
Several of the laws are facing court challenges, including in Indiana. A federal judge ruled the state has no right to limit a woman’s reason for terminating a pregnancy, a decision that Indiana is appealing.
Lawyers for the Utah Legislature cited that ruling in a legal review released with Lisonbee’s bill. They noted that the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision legalizing abortions and its rulings since leave “a high probability” that the proposal unconstitutionally violates a woman’s right to an abortion.
Lisonbee said that if Utah passed the law and it’s challenged in court, she hopes it would wind its way to the Supreme Court.
Karrie Galloway, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Association of Utah, said the measure is about restricting access to abortion, not protecting those with Down syndrome.
“The decision to terminate a pregnancy is a deeply personal and sometimes complex decision,” Galloway said in a statement. “Many parents find that having a child with Down syndrome is the right decision for them, but this does not mean that their experience should lead to a law that forces other families into the same situation.”
Amber Merkley, a West Valley City woman whose son Finn has Down syndrome, told reporters that “as a society, we are perfectly willing to legislate all sorts of discrimination.”
“Until we are willing to accept Finn’s difference, just as we accept and embrace so many other differences, we need this law to protect individuals with Down syndrome from discrimination to ensure that they have the right to simply exist,” Merkley said.
A 2012 study by the journal Prenatal Diagnosis found that somewhere between 67 and 85 percent of Down syndrome diagnoses lead to abortion in the United States. It’s unclear how often that happens in Utah.
About 1 percent of abortions in the state in 2015 were due to “fetal malformation,” according to an annual report compiled by the Utah Department of Health. But the report, the most recent available, doesn’t offer details about how many are based on a Down syndrome diagnosis or other abnormalities.
Associated Press writers Melinda Deslatte in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Andrew DeMillo in Little Rock, Arkansas, Emily Wagster Pettus in Jackson, Mississippi and Rick Callahan in Indianapolis contributed to this report.