Pennsylvania Lawmakers Reintroduce Down Syndrome Abortion Ban

Cute boy with Down syndrome playing with dad on in home living room
Tatiana Dyuvbanova/Getty Images

A bipartisan group of Pennsylvania lawmakers has sponsored a bill that would ban abortions in the state based on a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome.

If the legislation is enacted, a person who violates its provisions could be charged with a felony of the third degree, the bill’s text states.

HB 1500 states:

An abortion shall not be deemed a necessary abortion if any of the following apply:

  • The abortion is sought solely because of the sex of the unborn child.
  • The abortion is sought solely because the unborn child receives a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome.

However, the legislation provides that a woman who undergoes an abortion in the situation of a Down syndrome prenatal diagnosis would not be guilty of violating the provisions of the bill.

Additionally, the bill states that “any physician who violates the provisions of this section is guilty of ‘unprofessional conduct’ and his license for the practice of medicine and surgery shall be revoked.”

In December, the bill’s main sponsor, state Rep. Kate Klunk (R), wrote in a memorandum of her intention to reintroduce the legislation.

Klunk explained:

Under current law, a woman can obtain an abortion prior to 24 weeks gestational age for any reason if a physician deems it is necessary, except if the woman’s sole reason is to select the sex of the child. This bill will expand that exception to prohibit aborting the child solely due to a prenatal diagnosis that the unborn child has Down Syndrome. Nothing in this proposal would interfere with the existing ability of a woman to obtain an abortion in cases of rape, incest or endangerment to the mother, which are contained in different sections of the Abortion Control Act.

In 2019, the legislation to ban Down syndrome abortions passed both the Pennsylvania House and the Senate but was vetoed by Gov. Tom Wolf (D), who called the bill “another attack on abortion”:

“There is no evidence that this bill is needed in Pennsylvania,” Wolf said in his veto message, adding:

This legislation is a restriction on women and medical professionals and interferes with women’s health care and the crucial decision-making between patients and their physicians. Physicians and their patients must be able to make choices about medical procedures based on best practices and standards of care. The prohibitions under this bill are not consistent with the fundamental rights vested by the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

In her December memorandum, Klunk quoted Dr. Karen Gaffney, a talented swimmer “who became the first living person with Down Syndrome to receive an honorary doctorate from a college or university.”

Gaffney said at a rally in March:

Those of us with Down Syndrome and our families face a very difficult future. We face a possibility of wiping out all of the tremendous progress we have made. Just as we are making so much progress, a whole industry has grown up focused on prenatal screening – screening that would end our lives before we take our first breath. Now that you can test for Down Syndrome before birth, there are many experts in the medical community that say this extra chromosome we carry around is not compatible with life. Not compatible with life? After everything we have done, I would say we are more than compatible. We are what life is all about. Our lives are worth living and our lives are worth learning about.

Dan Bartkowiak, communications director for Pennsylvania Family Institute (PFI) tweeted about the bill:

“Under current Pennsylvania law, eugenics is not only legal, but something that is actively being pushed,” PFI noted in a statement. “A diagnosis of Down syndrome should never be a reason to terminate a child. All life is priceless and worth saving and Down syndrome is no exception.”

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