SALT LAKE CITY — Benjamin Flowers, Ohio’s deputy solicitor general, said something recently that ought to kick-start a nationwide discussion.
“If women are selecting children with Down syndrome for abortion, if doctors are negatively counseling their patients to abort children when they have a Down syndrome diagnosis,” he said, “the message that sends not only to children or people carrying a child but to people who are 30 years old is that if you have Down syndrome your life is not worth as much.”
Of course, it’s hardly necessary to kick-start any discussion about abortion. Americans have been talking over each other on that subject for decades now. But when it concerns terminating a pregnancy because the fetus has an extra chromosome, some questions come to mind.
Do we, as a nation, value one life more than another based on characteristics or genetics? If so, does someone have a master list of desirable characteristics?
As science gets better at diagnosing potential problems in the womb, it may be useful to consider which of your shortcomings might have warranted your termination if they could have been diagnosed in utero.
Flowers was defending an Ohio law that seeks to put an end to elective abortions that happen because a mother learns the baby she is carrying likely has Down syndrome. Ohio would punish a doctor who knows the woman’s decision is based partly on such a diagnosis but proceeds anyway.
Indiana has a similar law that is tied up in litigation. North Dakota and Louisiana have laws that are yet to be challenged.
Utah could be next. For the second year in a row, Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, R-Clearfield, and Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, are sponsoring a bill that would do the same, only with a few twists. HB166 would outlaw abortions performed when the mother’s “sole” reason for wanting one is because the baby may have Down syndrome, but the bill specifies that this would take effect only when a court of binding authority rules that a law one those other states passed is constitutional, to keep it from costing Utah taxpayers money to defend.
In the meantime, the bill would require that mothers receive information from organizations that represent parents of children with Down syndrome before receiving an abortion.
Supporters of the bill argue these parents currently are left with only their fears, and perhaps doctors urging them to abort. Opponents say that’s nonsense.
Still, experts say somewhere between 67 percent and 90 percent of parents choose to abort after receiving the diagnosis, although some say the figure in Utah is much lower.
Last year’s version of the bill passed the House but failed in the Senate. Late Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee once again voted to send the bill to the floor of the House with a favorable recommendation, this time by a 9-3 vote.
Both sides were at the committee meeting. Parents of Down syndrome children testified of the joys and valuable life lessons they associate with such children. Civil libertarians, attorneys and other concerned citizens testified they worried about the state interfering in what ought to be a private decision.
The arguments are by now familiar to many Americans, if they bother to listen at all. Only one stood out — a young woman with Down syndrome named Lisa. She spoke of the dire predictions doctors made at her birth and how she had proven them wrong. She spoke of her favorite things, such as swimming, bowling, music, art and doing things with her boyfriend.
She reminded me of Frank Stephens, a man with Down syndrome who testified at a congressional hearing in 2017. A video of that testimony has recently gone viral.
“Some people say prenatal screens will identify Down syndrome in the womb and those pregnancies will just be terminated,” he said. “It’s hard for me to sit here and say those words.13 comments on this story
“I completely understand that the people pushing this particular ‘final solution’ are saying that people like me should not exist. That final view is deeply prejudiced by an outdated idea of life with Down syndrome. Seriously, I have a great life!”
Some say HB166 would be nothing more than a message bill, given that courts may not find those other laws constitutional and that the bill would be difficult to enforce. This may be true, but allowing fetuses with Down syndrome to be aborted sends a message, as well — one that forces us to come face to face with Lisa, Frank and many other happily functioning and contributing human beings.