Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
FILE - Amber Merkley with her son Finn and husband Justin, talks to the committee as the House Judiciary Committee discusses HB0166 Down syndrome nondiscrimination abortion act at a hearing at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019.

SALT LAKE CITY — A bill that would outlaw abortions solely based on a Down syndrome diagnosis cleared the Utah House of Representatives on Friday.

Unlike a version of the bill that died after the clock ran out during last year's legislative session, HB166 includes a provision that its sponsor, Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, R-Clearfield, said addresses concerns that the bill would be unconstitutional and result in millions of taxpayer dollars spent to defend it in court.

"This bill is not unconstitutional," Lisonbee said on the House floor, noting it includes a "trigger" provision that specifies the abortion ban provision would not take effect until a court ruled on its constitutionality.

A legal challenge is now before the U.S. Supreme Court over a similar ban in Indiana.

While presenting the bill to her colleagues in the House, Lisonbee repeated her arguments in an earlier House committee, comparing abortions of babies with Down syndrome to "eugenics."

"America has long repudiated the horrors of eugenics and the eugenics movement, but social engineering is alive and well in Utah's abortion clinics and doctor's offices today as we see the eradication of babies with Down syndrome," Lisonbee said.

She said she's heard "unfathomable" stories from parents telling of how doctors told them they "must abort this baby" after they discovered the unborn child may have Down syndrome.

The House voted to advance the bill to the Senate with a 54-15 vote along party lines.

2 comments on this story

While Lisonbee's fellow Republicans supported the bill, Democrats voiced opposition, questioning the state's role to restrict parents' personal decisions.

Just as it's "wrong" for a doctor to tell a mother she "must abort this baby," House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, said it's "also wrong for us as a Legislature to say, 'You cannot have an abortion.'"

In her closing statements, Lisonbee choked back tears before asking her fellow lawmakers to support the bill.

"We must send a message to the world that Utah values everyone," she said.

The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.