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COLUMBUS — Abortion opponents continue to urge state lawmakers to ban the procedure when it's based solely on a preterm diagnosis of Down syndrome.
Ohio Right to Life, a cell biologist and licensed physician were among those offering proponent testimony on thie issue this week before the Ohio House's Community and Family Advancement Committee, hoping to sway members to move HB 135 to the floor for a vote.
"It is my professional and personal position, based on science, philosophy and my view of human flourishing, that protectable human life begins at the moment of conception and extends to the grave," said Dennis Sullivan, a doctor who serves as the director of the Center for Bioethics at Cedarville University. "I am also very aware that some in this hearing room disagree with my opinion... but that discussion is not for today. ... However, it is highly relevant to our purposes today how we will protect the disadvantaged and vulnerable among us and how we will prevent genetic discrimination among those who currently have no voice."
HB 135 would prohibit abortions in cases where the procedure is sought only because of a Down syndrome diagnosis. Women who pursue such abortions would be immune from criminal penalties; rather, the legal consequences for breaking the ban would fall on the physicians involved, who could face criminal penalties or license revocations.
The legislation includes requirements that doctors report abortions they conduct to state health officials and affirm that they are unaware of Down syndrome diagnoses as being the sole reason for the procedure.
Proponents of HB 135 say the legislation would provide protections when there is a preterm diagnosis of Down syndrome.
David Prentice, vice president and research director at the Charlotte Lozier Institute, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit that opposes abortion, cited studies showing 87 percent-plus abortion rates following such diagnoses in the United States an other countries.
He said preterm testing sometimes provides inaccurate conclusions. And he said medical advancements have helped ensure long, healthy lives for those with Down syndrome.
"Medical science has also improved significantly not only in terms of surgeries to alleviate some of the physical problems associated with Down syndrome but also in potential pharmaceutical treatments" that have shown promise in improving cognitive function, Prentice said.
Stephanie Krider, executive director of Ohio Right to Life, added in separate testimony, "People with Down syndrome have the same fundamental rights as all other human beings... As you consider this legislation, consider our brothers and sisters with disabilities who live among us and think of the message we send by standing by while others like them are devalued in our society through abortion."
Democratic members of the Community and Family Advancement Committee voiced concern, however, about the impact and enforcement of the legislation.
Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan (D-Youngstown) questioned how the legislation would affect families, particularly those facing the closure of centers for developmentally disabled residents in her district and Dayton.
"What will we do — we're closing facilities," she said. "I don't think we're going in the direction to maintain or to support this legislation, if you look down the road."
Rep. Janine Boyd (D-Cleveland Heights) pointed to testimony about false-positive diagnoses of Down syndrome. How, she asked, could doctors be penalized for performing abortions if a diagnosis is in doubt?
And Rep. Kevin Boyce (D-Cleveland) asked whether HB 135 would lead to prohibitions on certain prenatal medical tests.
"When you start to ban certain findings, then the next question is going to be [should] we start banning certain invasive testing," he said. "If we're banning the outcomes of some of those, then are we [putting] the mother at risk by doing this invasive testing."
Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.
I certainly support this bill.
Democrat opposition to this bill speaks volumes about their attitude toward the disabled.