Dignity for disabled babies
States continue the push to protect unborn babies from discriminatory, disability-based abortions
The Arizona legislature on Thursday passed a bill that would protect babies from abortions based on a Down syndrome diagnosis or another genetic abnormality. If Gov. Doug Ducey—a Republican who has never vetoed a pro-life bill—signs the measure, the state will join a handful of other states that have passed protections for disabled unborn babies. Pro-abortion groups oppose this and similar legislation in other states as an attack on the so-called constitutional right to abortion, while some disability rights groups dismiss them as doing too little to protect against discrimination. But pro-life groups say bills like this draw attention to the eugenic effect of abortion.
“I think we need to be honest with ourselves,” said Arizona lawmaker Sen. Kelly Townsend. “Aborting a child because there’s a genetic abnormality is not healthcare. You are euthanizing a child that has a genetic abnormality. It’s euthanasia, it’s not healthcare.”
According to the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times, such laws interfere with a woman’s right to abortion established in Roe v. Wade by using motives to forbid some otherwise legal pre-viability abortions. “A constitutional right to an abortion means a right to have one for any reason,” the board wrote in response to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ April ruling that upheld Ohio’s 2017 law prohibiting Down syndrome abortions.
But South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem trumpeted a different fundamental guarantee for people in the United States when she signed the state’s Down syndrome abortion ban in March. “The Declaration of Independence summarizes what we all know in our hearts to be true: God created each of us and endowed all of us with the right to life,” she said. “This is true for everyone, including those with an extra chromosome.”
The bills have also drawn some criticism from disability rights activists. They, along with abortion activists, say the legislation overlooks the lifelong struggles people with disabilities face.
“It’s not so much that I or anybody that I know really disagrees with the intent of the bill,” Laura-Lee Minutello, a woman from Valrico, Fla., who has cerebral palsy, said about a bill the Florida House passed on Friday that would protect babies from abortions based on disability. “[I]t’s more that within the disability community, we feel that to truly value the lives of people with disabilities, you have to give them the supports and the things that everybody else has.” She said Florida doesn’t do enough to help people in the state who have disabilities.
Republican Rep. Erin Grall, the sponsor of the Florida bill, acknowledged in committee hearings that the legislation doesn’t address the other difficulties people with disabilities face but maintained it recognizes their value. She said the bill seeks to prevent abortions based on the “unscientific and racially biased” practice of eugenics, which favors desirable traits in humans and eliminates undesirable traits.
Bills like Arizona’s have faced legal challenges from pro-abortion groups, although outcomes have varied. As with the Ohio bill, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year allowed a similar Tennessee bill to take effect. In 2019, the Supreme Court let stand a lower court ruling that Indiana’s version of the law was unconstitutional. But, in his concurring opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas clarified that the court’s refusal to take up the case doesn’t necessarily mean the high court agrees with the lower court’s ruling.
“Although the court declines to wade into these issues today, we cannot avoid them forever,” he wrote. “Having created the constitutional right to an abortion, this court is duty bound to address its scope.”
If you enjoyed this article and would like to support WORLD's brand of Biblically sound journalism, click here.