West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice Signs Bill Banning Abortions on Babies With Down Syndrome

State   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Mar 21, 2022   |   2:52PM   |   Charleston, West Virginia

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice today signed a pro-life bill taking another step to stop abortions and protect unborn children from abortion.

Recently, state lawmakers approved a bill that would ban abortions done on babies with Down syndrome — who are often target in abortions when prenatal tests indicate the baby may have the condition. With just five minutes left in the regular 60-day session, the Unborn Child with Down Syndrome Protection and Education Act (SB 468), a bill supported by West Virginians for Life (WVFL), successfully passed in the West Virginia Senate by a bipartisan 27-5 vote after an 81-17 vote in the House of Delegates earlier in the day.

The bill will protect unborn babies from being aborted due to a diagnosis of a disability and will require doctors to provide educational materials and information on the support systems available to families raising children with disabilities.

The law goes into effect June 10 and Justice said it is needed because of the discriminatory manner in which some babies are targeted with abortions.

“It just seems terribly discriminatory in my book,” Justice said.

Justice signed the bill on World Down Syndrome Day. World Down Syndrome Day is observed on March 21 to advocate for full inclusion in society of individuals with Down syndrome.

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The pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List applauded the signing and its president Marjorie Dannenfelser told Lifenews: “West Virginia takes a bold step forward today in the fight against eugenic discrimination in America. Research shows 99% of people with Down syndrome lead happy lives, yet instead of being cherished and included, far too often they are targeted for destruction in the womb where they are most vulnerable. We are proud to stand with West Virginians, the community of self-advocates and their loved ones calling on our nation to ‘embrace, not erase’ Down syndrome.”

“We are grateful for Governor Justice’s swift action and for all our local pro-life allies, especially our National Pro-Life Caucus members Del. Kayla Kessinger and Sen. Patricia Rucker, who worked tirelessly up to the final minutes of the session to get these vital protections enacted in the law. As we await a decision in the landmark Dobbs case, we hope the people of every state will soon have the chance to modernize our laws.”

Last month the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals allowed a Tennessee law that prohibits discriminatory abortions based on sex, race or prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome to go into effect while litigation continues. The court further stated that it would wait to hear the case until after the U.S. Supreme Court issues a decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a case that will address whether all pre-viability abortion limits are unconstitutional. The Court heard oral arguments in the case on December 1, 2021, and a decision is expected by the summer.

Lead Sponsor was Senator Patricia Rucker with cosponsors Senators Mike Azinger, Donna Boley, Charlie Clements, Amy Nichole Grady, Robert Karnes, Mike Maroney, Mark Maynard, Rupie Phillips, Rollan Roberts, Randy Smith, David Stover, Dave Sypolt, Eric Tarr, Jack Woodrum, and Patrick Martin. House Lead Sponsor of companion bill HB 4337 was Delegate Kayla Kessinger.

“Killing an unborn child because of a disability is an extreme form of discrimination against people with disabilities,” said West Virginians for Life Political Liaison Karen Cross. “I’m so proud of the West Virginia Legislature for protecting these vulnerable babies with disabilities from abortion.”

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A Marist Poll (January 2021) showed that of the 1,173 adults surveyed, 70% “oppose abortion due to the expectation a child will be born with Down syndrome.”

After the victory, National Right to Life (NRLC) State Legislative Director Ingrid Duran stated, “The National Right to Life Committee applauds the great state of West Virginia for putting a stop to eugenic abortions and providing helpful resources for families that are given a disability diagnosis in their unborn child.”

WVFL President Wanda Franz, Ph.D., pointed out that, “worldwide, a substantial body of  research conducted over the past several decades has revealed that women who chose to terminate a pregnancy due to fetal anomaly compared with those who carried their babies to term are at risk for serious, prolonged mental health problems.”

With the expected signature by Governor Jim Justice, the bill will take effect July 1, 2022.

The bill is titled “The Unborn Child with Down Syndrome Protection and Education Act,” but it would apply to any and all disabilities except in the case of medical emergency and for severe fetal conditions that are “incompatible with life outside the womb.”

Republican Sen. Mike Azinger, a sponsor of the bill, said during consideration of the bill that parents are often wrongly told their baby has Down syndrome or pressured to abort such a child.

“I see on Facebook, these parents holding a baby that was supposedly going to have all kinds of problems at birth, maybe even not live, and they’re perfectly fine,” he said. “Or, the prognosis prior to birth was not nearly as bad as what it turned out to be.”

This legislation will require that a health care practitioner that administers, or causes to be administered, a test for any physical, emotional, or intellectual disability or diagnosis to an expectant or new parent shall, upon receiving a test result that confirms the presence of any disability, provide the expectant or new parent with educational information made available by the WV Department of Health and Human Resources.

Mary Anne Buchanan of West Virginians for Life says there are instances when a wrong pre-natal diagnosis is given, such as this story from WVFL Raleigh County Chapter Leader Hilda Shorter.

“The doctor called us in and said there was a good chance that my grandson Cooper would be born with Down syndrome and told my daughter she had 10 days to decide to have an abortion. He was born perfect and is a very productive 20-year-old man. She continued, “then four years later, we were gifted with our precious grandson Dalton, who has Down syndrome. He is the love of my life and to everyone he comes in contact with!”

Over 90% of family members report love and happiness living with a family member with Down syndrome. In addition, 99% of those with Down syndrome report being happy.