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Pa. lawmakers pushing bill banning Down syndrome abortions

Gillian McGoldrick, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in News & Features

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- The Republican-controlled Senate came one step closer to considering a controversial bill -- which had been thought to be stalled in committee -- that would outlaw aborting fetuses based solely on a diagnosis of Down syndrome.

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday approved House Bill 2050, introduced by Republican Speaker Mike Turzai of Allegheny and passed in the House in April. Its supporters say it would protect children with a developmental disability. Critics have called it a thinly veiled attempt to roll back abortion rights in the state.

If the full state Senate passes the bill, Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, likely would veto it. He vetoed another measure in December that would have banned abortion 20 weeks into a pregnancy or later, and has said he opposes this one.

GOP state Sen. Scott Martin of Lancaster said Wednesday the latest bill would create a protection similar to a current law that bans abortions based on the sex of the fetus.

"We really need to be protective of the fact that we don't engage in anything that's very eugenic," Martin said. "We've seen what that's done in our country before."

Down syndrome can be detected in fetuses through blood tests and amniocentesis, a test that samples amniotic fluid in the uterus to detect developmental abnormalities.

Martin said he fears the test could be inaccurate and added that people with Down syndrome can "live just normal, successful lives as so many of us in our communities."

GOP state Sen. Stewart Greenleaf of Montgomery, who chairs the committee, said, "We don't want to be in a situation where we're choosing groups of people who should live and who should not live."

The bill has been the subject of political maneuvering in recent weeks. When several months passed without any movement in the Senate Judiciary Committee, Turzai proposed tacking this abortion measure onto a human-trafficking bill in the House that was sponsored by Greenleaf. After the Senate committee passed Turzai's bill on Wednesday, Turzai withdrew his proposal. Greenleaf said he had hoped that would occur.

Asked about the timing of his committee's vote on the abortion measure, Greenleaf said: "If I don't get it out now, then we may not be in session. Next week may be our last week to be in session. It's not just that bill, it's all the other bills (in committee)."

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