A controversial Utah bill banning abortion in cases of fetal Down syndrome is one step closer to becoming law in the predominantly conservative state. House Bill 205 was approved by a House Committee on Monday evening, reports Fox 13 Now, and will now be moving to the state Senate floor for debate and consideration.
House Bill 205 is the brainchild of Republican state Representative Karianne Lisonbee, who claims that aborting fetuses with Down syndrome smacks “of eugenics,” and is a form of discrimination against people with the condition. As KUTV 2 News reports, Lisonbee has publicly expressed her opinion that people with Down syndrome are a “group of people who have a right to exist.”
The proposed Utah legislation would target doctors who perform abortions rather than gestating women. If House Bill 205 becomes law, doctors who perform abortion because the gestating woman doesn’t want a fetus who has (or is suspected of having) Down syndrome could be charged with a misdemeanor crime. Women seeking to terminate a Down syndrome pregnancy would not face charges under the proposed law.
Monday night’s advancement of House Bill 205 was lauded by supporters of the legislation, including Utah Down Syndrome Foundation worker Amber Merkley. Merkley is also the mother of a child with the debilitating chromosomal disorder.
According to Merkley, doctors and nurses tend to push gestating women towards abortion if a diagnosis of Down syndrome is made during pregnancy. She believes that many women choose to abort Down syndrome fetuses “from a place of fear,” adding that when she received her fetus’ diagnosis during pregnancy, she was directed to a “clinic that didn’t exist.”
“The information we were given was okay, but a lot of it was outdated. We were directed to a clinic that didn’t exist…Fear is the enemy of joy, and we feel a lot of these decisions are made from a place of fear.”
Not surprisingly, opponents of the Utah Down syndrome abortion bill believe that it goes too far in restricting women’s legal right to choose, and that decisions regarding abortion, even in cases of Down syndrome, should be left to gestating women and their doctors.
The Planned Parenthood Association of Utah spoke out against the proposed new law on Monday evening, issuing a statement condemning House Bill 205.
“H.B. 205 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 that must be left to a woman, in consultation with her family, her faith, and her health care provider. 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. Regardless of how one personally feels about abortion, it’s important that it remain a safe and legal medical procedure for a woman to consider if and when she needs it.”
Even supporters of the Utah Down syndrome abortion bill have publicly recognized that, should the proposed legislation become law, it will be difficult to enforce and could face costly legal opposition. Several other states have already passed similar anti-abortion legislation, and many of those (including Ohio) are now in the midst of expensive legal battles that may ultimately prevent their new laws from going into effect.
According to House Bill 205 advocates, they will be happy if their proposed legislation does little more than ensure that medical professionals “provide unbiased advice” to pregnant women facing a diagnosis of fetal Down syndrome. Critics of the bill say it infringes on the constitutional rights of gestating women, adding that it would be next to impossible to prove that a woman was seeking an abortion solely due to a Down syndrome diagnosis.