Legislators in Harrisburg want to make Pennsylvania the next state that bans abortions based solely on the fetus being diagnosed with Down syndrome, a common intellectual disability.
"Every human life is worth living and has dignity," said state Rep. Mike Turzai (R-28), Republican speaker of the house, while discussing the proposed Down Syndrome Protection Act at a rally last week in Harrisburg. "Each and every one of us deserves dignity, and that's what this Down Syndrome Protection Act is all about."
But some are wondering if that is what this bill is really about, or if it's more related to legislators' general pro-life stances.
"We used to see broader types of legislation that were focused around banning abortions in the case of genetic anomaly. Over the past couple years, we've seen it change to bans for Down syndrome," said Elizabeth Nash, a policy analyst at the Guttmatcher Institute, a reproductive rights research organization. "It's identifying these different reasons a woman might want to seek an abortion, and that would really conflict with the U.S. Supreme Court's standard around abortion."
Politicians and leaders at the rally on March 12 in Harrisburg cited CBS News, which said that Iceland has almost "eradicated" Down syndrome through a nearly 100 percent abortion rate of fetuses with Down syndrome based on prenatal testing. They said this bill would ban abortions based solely on a finding of Down syndrome and would be added to the law banning abortions based on gender.
"Indeed, in Iceland, they brag about eliminating children with Down syndrome," said state Rep. Kathy Rapp, chair of the House Committee on Health and Human Services and the House Pro-Life Caucus. "This is another clear example of the philosophy being advanced by Planned Parenthood and their belief in eugenics."
Karen Gaffney, the first person with Down syndrome to swim the English Channel, spoke in support of the legislation.
"There are many experts in the medical field who will say this extra chromosome we carry around is not compatible with life. … Am I not compatible with life?" Gaffney asked. "Thankfully, we have medical research teams all around the world racing to outrun the prenatal testing industry. They are working at breakneck speed to find ways to improve our lives, not prevent them in the first place."
But Nash questioned whether this legislation would infringe on women's health rights.
"We cannot pit disability rights against reproductive rights," Nash said. "The disability rights community raises important issues around discrimination and that needs to be heard and valued, but not at the expense of abortion rights."
Lizanne Pando, a Montgomery County mom of a 19-year-old with Down syndrome, said she supports the bill because she felt pushed by her doctors to get an abortion after they found her daughter had a chance of having the condition.
"I was pressured to abort the child. I was even told that she wouldn't be as high-functioning as she is," Pando said. "My daughter is a soul that came forth in the way God asked her to. … The lessons she's given myself and others have been nothing less than heaven-sent. I'm happy with the decision I made to have my daughter every day."
Down syndrome abortion bills
Pennsylvania is the latest of several states to propose this sort of ban.
North Dakota has banned abortions based on a positive Down syndrome test since 2013.
Ohio passed legislation banning such abortions, which was blocked by federal courts. The state's attorney general is appealing that decision.
Indiana passed a similar law, which was blocked by federal courts.
Kentucky legislators are currently weighing such legislation.
Pennsylvania previously passed Chloe's Law, which requires healthcare providers to provide women who get a prenatal Down syndrome diagnosis with information about the condition and state resources available to help them.
Watch the March 12 rally in Harrisburg below.