Legislation Considered To Outlaw Abortion Strictly For Down Syndrome Diagnosis

Jan 30, 2018

A bill introduced in the House Judiciary Committee Thursday seeks to prohibit abortions, if the reason for the procedure is a positive diagnosis of Down syndrome.

House Bill 205, sponsored by Clearfield Republican Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, would charge doctors who carry out abortions under such circumstances with a class A misdemeanor.

Lisonbee says she isn’t trying to change anyone’s mind about abortion, but to bring attention to a discriminatory practice:

“Currently, upon a Down syndrome diagnosis, many women seek an abortion because their unborn child has a genetic condition,” she said.

Legislative lawyers attached a constitutional note to the bill, saying if passed, it would likely be challenged in court. A similar measure passed in Ohio last year and is slated to take effect this March. But, according to Marina Lowe of the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah, the Ohio law will be challenged in court.

“Make no mistake," Lowe said, "there will be legal action there, and there will be legal action here, if the state of Utah chooses to go down this path.”

A similar 2016 law in Indiana was blocked on constitutional grounds in federal court.  

Over the course of the two-hour hearing, dozens of people testified for and against the bill, filling the meeting room and an overflow space with parents of children with Down syndrome, medical professionals and women hoping to share their stories.

Psarah Johnson, an advocate for people with disabilities, said that as a woman with a disability, HB205 further discriminates against women like her who have made difficult decisions about their reproductive health.

“It hurts my feelings to be inferred as a murderer or be inferred as discriminatory if I choose to terminate what may be a very difficult pregnancy, particularly if I have decided that I may want to carry a child, only to find out that that child may have a disability that I am unable to take care of,” Johnson said.

Another part of the bill requires medical professionals to provide referrals for women to state or national Down syndrome parent groups when a fetus tests positive for the disorder.

Courtney Thorup, a mother of a child with Down syndrome, says she supports that part of the bill. Thorup says she was lucky to connect with other mothers who understood what she was going through:

“It is true that we do mourn, and we do mourn the child we thought we were going to have," Thorup said. "All of us have those feelings, whether it comes before or after. But what helps with that and what fixes that is talking to other mothers that know the joys that are coming.”

HB205 passed out of committee with a favorable recommendation and will next be heard on the House floor.