North Dakota recently enacted first-of-its-kind legislation: a bill prohibiting abortion when it is performed solely on the basis of a genetic abnormality of the unborn child. The provision was enacted along with a prohibition on abortion based solely on the sex of the unborn child. Both provisions are significant strides toward protecting the unborn against violent discrimination.
Persons with genetic abnormalities are a prime target in the womb—oftentimes based upon inaccurate medical data. While state and federal laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, prohibit discrimination against persons with genetic abnormalities, that protection was not afforded to such persons before they are born.
North Dakota became the first state to stand in the gap for these unborn children. House Bill 1305—signed into law by Governor Jack Dalrymple—prohibits abortion providers from performing abortions sought solely because the child has a genetic abnormality. Likewise, North Dakota joins Arizona, Illinois, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania in prohibiting abortions when they are sought solely because the child is an “unwanted” sex.
Results from various studies show that up to 90 percent of unborn children diagnosed with a genetic abnormality such as Down syndrome are aborted. Recent years have seen an increase in the use of amniocentesis and other prenatal testing to diagnose potential health problems in unborn children. However, amniocentesis and other prenatal testing are known to give false positives, further compounding the tragedy.
There are 4000 known genetic abnormalities and these abnormalities manifest in varying ways and degrees. Many persons with physical or mental deformities or handicaps are able to support themselves financially, obtain an education, or live independently. Further, as technology advances and educational methods improve, persons with physical or mental handicaps will increasingly become self-dependent and productive citizens.
Studies have revealed that aborting a child with a fetal anomaly can cause great psychological harm for parents. In 2004, one study revealed that maternal grieving after such abortions continued for over six months and included pathological anxiety and depression. In 2005, another study revealed that a substantial number (17.3 percent) showed pathological scores for posttraumatic stress. A follow-up study in 2009 revealed that at 14 months post-abortion, 16.7 percent of women were diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder.
In sum, abortion is not the answer to a diagnosis of genetic abnormality. Instead, researchers have stressed the importance of adequate psychological support and guidance from the woman’s caregiver during the decision-making process. Clearly, parents need to know that there are more compassionate options than simply terminating a pregnancy.
To that end, AUL encourages states to take a two-pronged approach: 1) prohibit abortion based solely on a genetic abnormality, and 2) require that physicians provide families with information on perinatal hospice if the unborn child is diagnosed with a lethal fetal anomaly. (Model language for both model bills can be accessed here.)
As North Dakota has demonstrated, states should act to prevent the killing of the handicapped unborn. Compassion, for the child and for the parents, requires no less.
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 A. Kersting et al., Grief after termination of pregnancy due to fetal malformation, J. Psychcom. Obstet. Gynaecol.25:163 (2004).
2 M.J. Korenromp et al., Long-term psychological consequences of pregnancy termination for fetal abnormality: A cross sectional study, Prenatal Diagnosis 25:253 (2005).
3 A. Kersting et al., Psychological impact on women after second and third trimester termination of pregnancy due to fetal anomalies versus women after preterm birth: A 14-month follow up study, Arch. Women’s Mental Health 12:193 (2009).
4 See, e.g., M. D’Almeida et al., Perinatal Hospice: Family-Centered Care of the Fetus with a Lethal Condition, J. Amer. Physicians & Surgeons 11:52 (2006); B.C. Calhoun et al., Perinatal Hospice: Comprehensive Care for the Family of the Fetus with a Lethal Condition (2005).