Appeals Court Upholds Ohio Down Syndrome Abortion Law

Appeals Court Upholds Ohio Down Syndrome Abortion Law
Photo:SAUL LOEB/AFP (Getty Images)

On Tuesday, a federal appeals court upheld an Ohio law that bans doctors from performing abortions based on a fetal diagnosis of Down syndrome. The ruling, which divided the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, reversed two earlier decisions that blocked the enforcement of the controversial 2017 legislation. Doctors who perform the procedure on a patient who they know is seeking an abortion due to a Down syndrome diagnosis could face a fourth-degree felony charge, lose their medical license, and be held liable for legal damages.

In recent years, an increasing number of states have passed or attempted to pass similar legislation banning selective abortions based on genetic anomalies, with some states also extending their bans to abortions based on race and gender.

As my fellow Jezebel contributor Marie Solis noted, anti-abortion advocates tend to focus these “reason bans” (otherwise known as selective abortion bans) around Down syndrome in an attempt to portray themselves as disability-rights advocates, even going as far as to try to frame the issue as one of eugenics. However, in reality, reason bans can encourage providers to apply extra scrutiny to the reproductive decisions of people of color—despite the lack of evidence that race and gender are factors in their choice to seek an abortion. After all, if the real concern of “pro-life” advocates was the welfare of children with disabilities, you’d imagine they would do more to support those children and their families after they were born.

In an op-ed for The Atlantic on selective abortion bans, a women’s rights advocate and a disability rights advocate wrote:

“For many people, including us, the thought of aborting a fetus because of an impairment is a troubling one. But legalized abortion is not the problem to be solved. Beyond undermining women’s autonomy unfairly, bans on selective abortion also worsen the stigma against people with disabilities—while doing nothing to address the practical issues they and their families face.
Rather, what needs to be challenged is the notion that a physical or developmental disability is a tragedy.”

“Today, the Sixth Circuit allowed politicians to exploit the real needs and concerns of people with Down syndrome to push their anti-abortion agenda,” said Chrisse France, the executive director of Preterm Cleveland, about Tuesday’s ruling. “No one should be able to make these decisions other than the patients and families we serve.”

Several of the appeals court judges who voted to strike down the ban gave dissenting opinions, including Judge Bernice Donald. “I will call it what it is: the long-arm of the state — wielding the threat of a class-four felony — forcefully reaching into a profoundly intimate conversation between doctor and patient and telling the patient to be silent about her medical history or worse, purposefully lie about it,” she wrote.

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