The Pennsylvania House strongly supported a bill Monday to prohibit discriminatory abortions on unborn babies with Down syndrome.
The legislation passed in a 139-56 vote and now moves to the state Senate for consideration, the AP reports.
Under current Pennsylvania law, a woman can have an abortion prior to 24 weeks for any reason except sex selection. State House Bill 2050 would expand that exception to include a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome. Four states have similar laws: Indiana, Louisiana, Ohio and North Dakota.
“The future has never been brighter for babies born with Down syndrome,” said state Rep. Judy Ward, one of the lead sponsors of the bill. “We’ve learned too much to accept that Down syndrome citizens should be considered anything less than full members of the community. They deserve respect and the protection of our laws.”
Some of the biggest supporters of the legislation are people with Down syndrome and their families. Karen Gaffney, a long-distance swimmer with Down syndrome and disability rights advocate, spoke at a rally last month in the state Capitol about how every child with Down syndrome has a life worth living.
Lynne and Paul Conrad, of Pittsburgh, also want to see the legislation pass. One of their children, Chris, has Down syndrome.
“He’s a child. He’s one of my four children. Yes, he may have different abilities, but all my children have different abilities,” his mother told KDKA Pittsburgh.
But American Civil Liberties Union Pennsylvania spokesperson Elizabeth Randol claimed the bill is “unconstitutional,” Newsweek reports.
“It utilizes a very difficult decision for some people, and a very complex one, to exploit the people that it affects, as a wedge to try to legislate abortion control,” Randol said in a statement.
However, Maria Gallagher, legislative director of the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation, said the legislation is about disability rights for the unborn.
“There is no greater form of discrimination than denying an individual the right to life,” Gallagher said. “It is time for the systematic and pervasive discrimination against people with Down syndrome to end.”
Last year, a CBS News report shocked the nation with its exposure of the discriminatory abortion trend. According to the report, nearly 100 percent of unborn babies who test positive for Down syndrome are aborted in Iceland. The rate in France was 77 percent in 2015, 90 percent in the United Kingdom and 67 percent in the United States between 1995 and 2011, according to CBS.
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Some put the rate as high as 90 percent in the United States, but it is difficult to determine the exact number because the U.S. government does not keep detailed statistics about abortion.
Gov. Tom Wolf, who once volunteered for the abortion chain Planned Parenthood, said he will veto the bill.
Earlier this spring, Wolf’s spokesman had the audacity to claim there is no discrimination problem.
“There is no evidence that this practice is even occurring, yet this is another example of Harrisburg Republicans exploiting vulnerable families and trying to undermine the doctor-patient relationship to score political points,” J.J. Abbott told CNHI.
But pro-life and disability rights advocates said it is very much needed.
“No child should be targeted for death because of a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome,” said Jeremy Samek of the Pennsylvania Family Council.
Samek, who recently adopted a baby with Down syndrome, said parents should be aware that support exists for families of children with disabilities. In 2014, Pennsylvania passed a law to help make sure parents receive that information when their child is diagnosed with Down syndrome.
“Birth mothers who don’t think they could raise a special needs child have support and we need to ensure they are aware of it,” he said. “If they still think they can’t do it even with the support, there are people willing to adopt children with special needs, and birth moms who place their child in a loving home are heroes.”