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Pennsylvania House passes bill to ban abortions because of Down syndrome

Liz Navratil and Angela Couloumbis, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in News & Features

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- The Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed a bill Monday that would prohibit abortions based on a diagnosis -- or even just a belief -- that a fetus has Down syndrome.

The bill was approved in a bipartisan vote, 139-56. It was the second time in five months that the Republican-led chamber rushed through a bill restricting abortions without holding a public hearing.

The bill, sponsored by House Speaker Mike Turzai, now goes to the Senate, where its prospects are uncertain. Gov. Tom Wolf opposes the bill and would be likely to veto it if it were to reach his desk.

The measure would prohibit abortions when they are sought exclusively because of "a prenatal diagnosis of, or belief that the unborn child has, Down syndrome." Similar measures have passed in other states but face legal challenges on grounds they are unconstitutional restrictions on abortion rights.

Turzai has said he introduced the bill after he read reports about abortion after Down syndrome diagnoses in Iceland. Republican state Rep. Kate Klunk, speaking on the House floor Monday, described the bill as an effort to prevent "eugenics," and bill co-sponsor Judy Ward, also a Republican, read a series of quotes from families who said their lives had been enriched by children with Down syndrome.

State law now allows abortion for any reason up to 24 weeks' gestation, with the exception of termination based on the gender of the fetus.

"Opponents of this legislation fight any reasonable limitation to abortion," Randall Wenger, the Pennsylvania Family Institute's chief counsel, said in a statement.

Fellow institute attorney Jeremy Samek said: "We should be encouraging the current support systems available to help with raising a child with Down syndrome. And we should be providing information on adoption to women who feel like they cannot provide for a child with Down syndrome."

Critics of the bill argue that it doesn't provide any additional services for children born with the condition. Some have said they fear that the bill would result in "state-imposed" pregnancy, which would violate the Constitution. Multiple medical groups, including the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, also oppose the legislation.

Among the critics are some women who chose to continue a pregnancy after a Down syndrome diagnosis, and others who chose to have an abortion after the diagnosis.

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