Missouri leaders urged a federal court Tuesday to uphold a state law that protects unborn babies with Down syndrome from deadly “modern eugenics.”
The 2019 Missouri Stands For the Unborn Act, which Planned Parenthood is challenging in court, prohibits discriminatory abortions on unborn babies based on a Down syndrome diagnosis, their sex or race.
On Tuesday, state Solicitor General John Sauer told the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals that prenatal discrimination against babies with Down syndrome is a “crisis,” with abortion rates above 90 percent in some parts of the world, Newsmax reports.
“This is the crisis against which Missouri enacted its Down syndrome provision that is before the court today,” Sauer said.
However, Planned Parenthood attorney Susan Lambiase argued that the law is not about eugenics at all; it is about restricting “choice,” according to Courthouse News.
“It’s not eugenics when a person is making a decision about whether or not she can sustain her pregnancy or choosing to terminate it,” Lambiase told the court. “There is a myriad of factors, there may be different reasons why a person makes that decision. And it’s not because that person is trying to do away with a particular disability.”
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She argued that the state could protect people from discrimination in other ways without restricting abortion.
Right now, a court order is blocking Missouri from enforcing the law. However, the Eighth Circuit recently agreed to re-hear the case, offering a glimmer of hope to unborn babies and those who work to defend them. It is not clear when the court will issue a ruling.
After the hearing Tuesday, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt held a press conference defending the law. A pro-life Republican, Schmitt said the legislation is especially important to him because his son has special needs.
“This is modern-day eugenics,” Schmitt said, Courthouse News reports. “I mean this is discriminating to the most extreme level, the elimination of an entire class of people, because of a trait, because of their diagnosis, and I just fundamentally believe that is not who we are as a country and that’s to me what this fight is about.”
The law does more than just protect unborn babies with specific traits. It also prohibits abortions after eight weeks, once an unborn baby’s heartbeat is detectable, and bans abortions completely once Roe v. Wade is overturned. Additionally, the law includes incremental stages to ban abortions after 14 weeks, 18 weeks or 20 weeks if the earlier bans are overturned in court. It also requires that both parents be notified before an underage girl has an abortion.
An August poll found that a strong majority of Missourians support the law. According to the Saint Louis University/YouGov poll, 56 percent agree that the state should prohibit abortions after eight weeks of pregnancy, including 57 percent of women. In contrast, 33 percent said they disagree and 11 percent said they are not sure.
After an Eighth Circuit panel ruling in June, Schmitt filed a petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the law and resolve a circuit court split about whether states may prohibit eugenic abortions that discriminate against unborn babies because of certain traits, such as Down syndrome.
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a similar law in Ohio in April, but the Eighth Circuit ruled against another Down syndrome abortion ban in Arkansas in January. The Seventh Circuit also ruled against another Indiana law in 2018.
“Unborn children with Down syndrome are aborted at epidemic rates,” Schmitt told the Supreme Court. “In the face of this genocidal crisis, Missouri and at least 11 other states have enacted laws restricting the eugenic abortion of the disabled, especially those with Down syndrome. In 2019, this Court declined to review the Seventh Circuit’s decision invalidating one of these laws—Indiana’s—because no circuit split yet existed. Since then, a clear and well-developed split of authority has emerged.”
According to state health statistics, 1,471 abortions were done in 2019 in Missouri.
Unborn babies with Down syndrome especially are targeted for abortions, with abortion rates as high as 100 percent in some countries after a prenatal diagnosis.
In 1973, the Supreme Court took away states’ ability to protect unborn babies from abortion through Roe v. Wade, and instead allowed abortion on demand through all nine months of pregnancy. Roe made the United States one of only seven countries in the world that allows elective abortions after 20 weeks.
However, the court recently agreed to hear a challenge to a Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks. The Mississippi case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization focuses on the question of “whether all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortion are unconstitutional.” The court is scheduled to hear the case in December.