In the past couple of months, several states, including Pennsylvania and Ohio, have attempted to ban abortions if pre-screening evaluations showed that the fetus will be born with Down syndrome, an intellectual disability in which the child is born three copies of chromosome 21 instead of the typical two. Children born with Down syndrome often experience health problems related to the heart and lungs, as well as immunodeficiency problems. The Center of Disease Control (CDC) currently estimates that Down syndrome occurs in 1 in every 691 births.
A less invasive means of prenatal testing for Trisomy 21, which began in October 2011, has allowed pregnant mothers to determine if the fetus has the disorder through a blood test. The option for this test has introduced a new thread of debate on the issue of abortion, in the United States and abroad. With President Donald Trump serving as a figurehead for the anti-abortion activism movement since his election in 2016, several states have taken advantage of emerging anti-abortion sentiment to push new laws that outlaw abortion on the basis of disability and/or Down syndrome specifically.
With President Donald Trump serving as a figurehead for the anti-abortion activism movement since his election in 2016, several states have taken advantage of emerging anti-abortion sentiment…
Statistics for determining the rate of abortion for fetuses with Down syndrome specifically in the United States is limited to studies conducted between 2006 and 2010. Studies have estimated approximately 5,300 Down syndrome live births per year, with an estimated 3,100 abortions conducted after a prenatal diagnosis confirmed the presence of the disorder in the fetus.
Limitations on abortions based upon Down syndrome pre-screening began in Indiana in 2016. Key provisions of the law included “protecting an unborn child that ‘has been diagnosed with any other disability or has a potential diagnosis of any other disability,’” according to the Lozeri Instute’s report titled “Overview of Legislation and Litigation Involving Protections Against Down Syndrome Discrimination Abortion.”
Additionally, Louisiana introduced similar legislation in the same year, preventing abortions based upon “any other disability” including Down syndrome or the potential for Down syndrome.
In the years following, North Dakota, Mississippi, Kentucky, Arkansas and Illinois have attempted similar legislation between 2016 and 2019. While Kentucky’s bill was passed in the state house, there has been no final decision made upon the bill since the ACLU challenged its passage before the governor could sign. The abortion-related bill in Louisiana, which does not mention Down syndrome specifically, but prohibits abortions for fetuses with “genetic abnormalities” that include Down syndrome, is due for a decision by the Supreme Court. The bill seeks to prohibit doctors from performing abortions unless they have admitting privileges at outside hospitals within 30 miles of the vicinity.
In November 2019, Governor Tom Wolf (D) of Pennsylvania vetoed a bill that sought to prohibit abortions based upon a Down syndrome prescreening diagnosis.
“Physicians and their patients must be able to make choices about medical procedures based on best practices and standards of care,” Wolf stated, previously reported by the Pennsylvania Inquirer. In the past, Wolf has rejected legislation introduced in 2017 that would prohibit abortions in Pennsylvania after 20 weeks. Currently, PA allows for abortions up to 24 weeks.
For more information on states looking to limit abortion access based on Down syndrome prescreening results, visit lozierinstitute.org.
Samantha Walsh is a fourth-year student majoring in special education and English. SW850037@wcupa.edu