Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Lisa Wilson completes her statement as she attends a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee as they discuss HB0166 Down syndrome nondiscrimination abortion act at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019.

A bill wending its way through the Utah Legislature that would outlaw abortions performed solely because a mother doesn’t want to give birth to a child with Down syndrome may, as its detractors say, be difficult to enforce — but the message it would send is powerful.

If it becomes just a so-called “message bill,” consider that it says the people of Utah see children with Down syndrome as having the same sacred value as any other human life.

Try as they might, the bill’s opponents cannot escape the logic that a government that allows people to terminate a pregnancy because they don’t want to bring a person with this syndrome into the world devalues all those living with Down syndrome. Any time lives are devalued and easily discarded because of genetics, all of society becomes devalued.

Nor can they escape the inconvenient truth that letting people destroy a fetus because of a possible imperfection (prenatal tests can give false positives) is a step toward engineering a human race that is somehow superior. Iceland has even taken to boasting that, through abortions, it is eradicating Down syndrome. Meanwhile, the few who carry such babies to term in such nations worry their children will be seen as outcasts.

People with Down syndrome are successful. Some operate businesses. Some are married and have children of their own. But all of them, regardless of how they might measure up to modern standards of success, contribute immeasurably to the beauty of the world.

It’s not enough merely to say that people should be urged to carry a child with an extra chromosome to full term while retaining the right to do otherwise if they wish. This is a litmus test for the sanctity of life.

The bill, HB166, was carefully crafted to avoid embroiling the state in a long and expensive legal fight. Sponsored by Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, R-Clearfield, and co-sponsored by Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, it would outlaw such abortions only if a court of binding authority rules that similar laws in other states are constitutional. Indiana and Ohio already are defending lawsuits against their versions.

In the meantime, the bill would require the Utah Department of Health to provide a mother whose unborn baby has been diagnosed with Down syndrome with contact information to Down syndrome associations or groups that provide support to such parents. Many parents feel devastated or worried after receiving such a diagnosis. This would be an attempt to give them a realistic and hopeful picture of what lies ahead.

26 comments on this story

Often, such babies are born with serious heart defects, but modern medical procedures can correct these. More research is needed into ways to correct problems or even reverse the condition completely in utero.

Such lifesaving measures should be the focus of society’s efforts regarding Down syndrome, not preserving the ability to terminate such a life.

Last year, a similar bill passed the House but failed in the Senate. Earlier this week, HB166 passed out of a House committee, 9-3. We urge lawmakers this year to put it into law. What it says about Utah’s values would be priceless.