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Author Topic: Ohio citizen to make aborting Down Syndrome fetuses illegal

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CLEVELAND — Opening a new front in the abortion wars, abortion opponents are pushing Ohio to make it illegal for a doctor to perform an abortion if a woman is terminating her pregnancy to avoid having a baby with Down syndrome.

The legislature is expected to approve the measure this fall because lawmakers endorsed by the National Right to Life Committee, which supports the bill, make up more than two-thirds of both houses.

Gov. John R. Kasich, a Republican who is running for president, opposes abortion but has not yet taken a position on this bill. Since his election in 2010, he has signed a variety of abortion restrictions, including a law requiring women to have an ultrasound and be offered a chance to see an image of the fetus before undergoing the procedure.

Mike Gonidakis, the president of Ohio Right to Life, said his group had made the bill here a legislative priority because Down syndrome is so recognizable, so easily diagnosed in pregnancy — and so likely to lead to abortion.

“We all want to be born perfect, but none of us are, and everyone has a right to live, perfect or not,” he said. “You go to any supermarket or mall and see these families who just happen to have a child with Down syndrome, and they will tell you how fortunate they are to have those children. Pretty soon, we’re going to find the gene for autism. Are we going to abort for that, too?”

But abortion rights lawyers say such a law would violate the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, which guarantees a woman’s right to seek an abortion until the fetus is viable. They also say that by focusing on the diagnosis of a fetal condition, it edges toward recognizing the fetus as a person, setting up a conflict between the mother’s interests and those of the fetus.

Between 60 and 90 percent of fetal Down syndrome diagnoses lead to abortion, according to an academic article reviewing research studies from 1995 to 2011 on the percentage of women who choose to terminate their pregnancies.

Over the last four decades, dozens of states have regulated access to abortion through waiting periods, clinic regulations or limits on how far along the pregnancy can be. Laws banning abortion based on motivation are far less common.

In 2013, North Dakota made it illegal for a doctor to perform an abortion because of fetal genetic anomalies, including Down syndrome. Indiana, Missouri and South Dakota considered similar laws this year. Seven states — Arizona, Kansas, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and South Dakota — have laws banning abortions if the reason is gender selection. In 2012, the United States House of Representatives rejected such a measure.

Arizona’s law also forbids abortion when the doctor knows “that the abortion is being sought based on the sex or race of the child, or the race of a parent of that child.”

Advocates are not aware of enforcement of any such laws in the states that have them.
“They’re trying to encroach on the right to abortion, step by step, and turn a woman’s health care decision into an issue of discrimination against the fetus,” said Sara Ainsworth, the director of legal advocacy at the National Advocates for Pregnant Women. “I can’t imagine how any of these laws would be enforceable.”

There have been no prosecutions under the 2013 North Dakota law, advocates on both sides say. Nor has the law changed anything at the state’s only abortion provider, the Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo, said Tammi Kromenaker, its director.

“We have not had any women who presented saying they need an abortion because of a fetal diagnosis,” she said. “I believe there are real women affected by this, but not at our clinic. If someone did come in saying that, we would refer her to a clinic in Minneapolis.”

Here, in a leafy residential neighborhood on Cleveland’s east side, where Naral Pro-Choice Ohio shares offices with Preterm, a nonprofit abortion clinic, local abortion rights advocates say the bill drives a wedge between supporters of disability rights and backers of abortion rights.

“This is interference with a medical decision following a complicated diagnosis,” said Kellie Copeland, the executive director of Naral Pro-Choice Ohio. “For us, it comes down to who makes the decision and who’s going to have to live with it. Not knowing the family and the circumstances, the legislature can’t possibly take into account all the factors involved.”

The head of Naral Pro-Choice Ohio, Kellie Copeland, said legislators can’t “possibly take into account all the factors involved” in a decision to abort. Credit Michael F. McElroy for The New York Times 

National and local Down syndrome associations have not taken a position on the bill. But some parents of children with Down syndrome are strong proponents.

At a May hearing on the bill, Heather Bellegia-Ernst, a mother of a child with Down syndrome, testified that “with nine out of 10 babies with Down syndrome being aborted, extinction is what we are really talking about.”
Rachel Mullen, 43, a mother of three who heads the recently formed Cuyahoga County chapter of Ohio Right to Life, said in an interview that her doctors had pressured her to have an abortion after an early screening test in one of her pregnancies showed a possibility of Down syndrome.

This is a terrible bill. The whole point of choice is that a woman has the right to her own body, and that includes the right to terminate a...

It seems that the Ohio legislature is Pro Birth not Pro Life since this bill does not include funds for the family to care for such a child...

The right-wing is constantly looking for ways to control women because they really don’t believe that women should be respected and treated...

“They told me that I should get an abortion fast, so no one would know I was pregnant and I wouldn’t have the stigma of abortion, that it would be doing the child a favor,” she said, adding that subsequent testing ruled out the Down diagnosis. “As soon as babies are born, they’re protected by the Americans With Disabilities Act, but we need this bill so that they can be born, and not culled.”

Some doctors in Cleveland — where the most abortions in Ohio are performed — fear the bill would discourage patients from having honest discussions about a tough decision.

“If abortion on demand is legal,” said Dr. Marjorie Greenfield, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, “and you can have an abortion just because you want to, what does it mean to say you can’t abort for Down syndrome? It seems bizarre.”

Indeed, there is currently no requirement for a woman to disclose her motivation for terminating a pregnancy.

Ohio is one of the most anti-abortion states in the nation, the first to introduce a bill that, had it passed, would have banned abortions after six weeks, when a heartbeat can be heard. In July a federal appeals court found such a law in North Dakota unconstitutional.

Another bill, which would prohibit abortion after 20 weeks, is still pending in Ohio. The legislature, which reconvenes in mid-September, has also imposed new regulations on abortion clinics.

Since Mr. Kasich took office, the number of clinics in the state that perform abortions has decreased to nine, from 16. Mr. Kasich appointed Mr. Gonidakis, the Ohio Right to Life president, to the state medical board.

At the Preterm clinic, about 66 of the 5,000 abortions that will be performed this year will be for fetal abnormalities, including Down syndrome and conditions, like anencephaly, that are fatal, said Chrisse France, the executive director.

“They’re very sad, because these are mostly intentional, much-wanted pregnancies, where they paint the nursery one day and find out the next day that something’s wrong,” she said. “Most people who have abortions already have children, and they say things like, ‘I just can’t be the kind of parent I want to be to this child.’ ”

The main effect of restrictive laws, she said, is to “squeeze vulnerable women and make them feel more ashamed, and that’s what the Down syndrome law would do, too.”
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