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Ohio lawmakers, parents push for an end to abortions for Down syndrome

(Photo credit: Carla Alves)

Up to 90 percent of preborn babies diagnosed with Down syndrome die from abortion. A new bill in Ohio aims to change that. Already one of the most pro-life states in the country, Ohio is expected to pass House Bill 135, which would “prohibit a person from performing, inducing, or attempting to perform or induce an abortion… because of a test result indicating Down Syndrome in an unborn child or a prenatal diagnosis of Down Syndrome in an unborn child.”

While opponents say the law would be difficult to enforce, physicians who knowingly abort a child based on a Down syndrome diagnosis could be charged with a fourth-degree felony and stripped of their medical licenses, in addition to being held liable for civil damages.

 Most Ohio lawmakers are anti-abortion, and are endorsed by the National Right to Life Committee. Governor John R. Kasich is also pro-life, and since his election he has signed pro-life laws. Then in 2014 Ohio passed a law requiring parents be given accurate information regarding their child’s diagnosis that does not show discrimination against people with that condition and does not present abortion as a viable option.

House Bill 135 would make it illegal for a woman to abort her baby based on a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome. One other state, North Dakota, has a similar law against aborting based on any genetic condition.

Those in favor of the bill, including many parents of children with Down syndrome, say that it is a way to protect people from discrimination.

“We all want to be born perfect, but none of us are, and everyone has a right to live, perfect or not,” said Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life.

Heather Bellegia-Ernst, a mother of a child with Down syndrome, testified at a hearing on the bill saying, “… with nine out of 10 babies with Down syndrome being aborted, extinction is what we are really talking about here.”

Down syndrome is the most common chromosomal disorder, affecting 6,000 babies born with it each year. The life expectancy of people with Down syndrome has increased drastically over the past several decades. In 1960, a person with Down syndrome could only expect to live until age 10. Today, the average life expectancy is 47 years. Better therapies and educational programs are being created to help people with Down syndrome live healthy, independent lives.

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