Ohio House committee hears testimony against banning abortions with Down Syndrome diagnosis

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COLUMBUS (WCMH) — A bill banning abortion based on the diagnosis of down syndrome had its third hearing on Wednesday in a House of Representatives committee. A similar bill has also been introduced in the Senate. 

Only opponent testimony was heard from physicians, pro-choice advocates and parents of children with down syndrome on Wednesday.

The first to speak before the committee was a proud parent of a 20-year-old daughter with down syndrome, Jane Gerhardt. Gerhardt is also a policy specialist for LEND (Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities).

“This bill creates a wedge in the disability community, declaring down syndrome as the better disability, the one worth saving against all other disabilities,” said Gerhardt.

She said House Bill 214 is bad public policy, because it pits disability against disability.

“I’m sure that this is an unintended consequence, but when you start making arbitrary decisions about which diagnosis deserve protections you automatically make decisions about which do not,” said Gerhardt.

Co-sponsor of the bill, State Representative Derek Merrin said this is just the first step in trying to protect people with a genetic disease.

“We want to protect everyone with disabilities. This is the first start. Down syndrome is one of the main reasons for abortion. I’m certainly willing to try to protect everyone with disabilities, but this is the first step,” he said.

H.B. 214 states that no person should perform an abortion if they have knowledge that the woman seeking it is doing it in part or because of a down syndrome diagnosis.

Otherwise, a physician could lose their license and face a fourth degree felony. The mother of the unborn child would not face any charges.

“We should value everyone and we should not allow targeted discrimination based on a down syndrome diagnosis to exist in this state,” said Rep. Merrin. “We are standing up for the down syndrome community saying that their lives matter, their lives should be valued and as a state we’re going to provide them with the appropriate legal protections.”

But, some physicians argued this bill undermines the trust and open communication between women and their doctors.

“Essentially, this bill creates a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ relationship between the doctor and the patient, which is frankly a complete reversal of what the relationship should be,” said radiologist Dr. Kristin Foley.

NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio deputy director Jaime Miracle said the bill is unconstitutional.

“It’s already been permanently blocked from going into effect in Indiana, so it’s a waste of taxpayer dollars to pass a bill we know is just going to get blocked in the courts and never go into effect,” said Miracle. “It’s a ban on abortion and that’s really all it is. They can cloth it in whatever they want individually in each bill, but this bill is about banning abortion in Ohio and making harder to get access to services that women need.”

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