Appeals Court Upholds Ohio Down Syndrome Abortion Law

Illustration for article titled Appeals Court Upholds Ohio Down Syndrome Abortion Law
Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP (Getty Images)

On Tuesday, a federal appeals court upheld an Ohio law that bans doctors from performing abortions based on a fetal diagnosis of Down syndrome. The ruling, which divided the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, reversed two earlier decisions that blocked the enforcement of the controversial 2017 legislation. Doctors who perform the procedure on a patient who they know is seeking an abortion due to a Down syndrome diagnosis could face a fourth-degree felony charge, lose their medical license, and be held liable for legal damages.

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In recent years, an increasing number of states have passed or attempted to pass similar legislation banning selective abortions based on genetic anomalies, with some states also extending their bans to abortions based on race and gender.

As my fellow Jezebel contributor Marie Solis noted, anti-abortion advocates tend to focus these “reason bans” (otherwise known as selective abortion bans) around Down syndrome in an attempt to portray themselves as disability-rights advocates, even going as far as to try to frame the issue as one of eugenics. However, in reality, reason bans can encourage providers to apply extra scrutiny to the reproductive decisions of people of color—despite the lack of evidence that race and gender are factors in their choice to seek an abortion. After all, if the real concern of “pro-life” advocates was the welfare of children with disabilities, you’d imagine they would do more to support those children and their families after they were born.

In an op-ed for The Atlantic on selective abortion bans, a women’s rights advocate and a disability rights advocate wrote:

“For many people, including us, the thought of aborting a fetus because of an impairment is a troubling one. But legalized abortion is not the problem to be solved. Beyond undermining women’s autonomy unfairly, bans on selective abortion also worsen the stigma against people with disabilities—while doing nothing to address the practical issues they and their families face.

Rather, what needs to be challenged is the notion that a physical or developmental disability is a tragedy.”

“Today, the Sixth Circuit allowed politicians to exploit the real needs and concerns of people with Down syndrome to push their anti-abortion agenda,” said Chrisse France, the executive director of Preterm Cleveland, about Tuesday’s ruling. “No one should be able to make these decisions other than the patients and families we serve.”

Several of the appeals court judges who voted to strike down the ban gave dissenting opinions, including Judge Bernice Donald. “I will call it what it is: the long-arm of the state — wielding the threat of a class-four felony — forcefully reaching into a profoundly intimate conversation between doctor and patient and telling the patient to be silent about her medical history or worse, purposefully lie about it,” she wrote.

Freelance writer & night blogger at Jezebel. Lover of television, astrology, and sandwiches.

DISCUSSION

silencetheadvocate
silencetheadvocate

I am so conflicted on this. I dedicated my life to supporting people with disabilities. So to hear about people wanting to have an abortion due to a Down syndrome diagnosis is painful.

At the same time, being forced to work in our shit healthcare system this...

After all, if the real concern of “pro-life” advocates was the welfare of children with disabilities, you’d imagine they would do more to support those children and their families after they were born.

...is all too true. The system is utter shit and forces people with disabilities into poverty. One of the concerns my organization consistently has is making sure we spend down a person’s account balance so they don’t have too much money and lose their benefits.

And when I say too much, I mean like have maybe a grand in their account at the end of the month. Because for some jackass, stupid ass, ass-inine reason, the U.S. government basically says “Welp, if a person with disabilities has $1k in their pocket, they don’t need us anymore. Take away all their benefits.”

In that respect, I can get wanting an abortion, because the American healthcare system almost assures those families that their loved one is basically going to struggle for their entire lives, not including the barriers their disabilities will create on its own. Who would want that for someone they love???

But at the same time, it hurts. Some of the sweetest, most incredible people I know have Down syndrome and the idea of not getting to meet them in some alternate reality is kind of heartbreaking...