News Abortion

Ohio Bill Uses Faux Disability Rights Language to Erode Choice

Nina Liss-Schultz

Anti-choice Ohio lawmakers have introduced a bill that would ban abortion after a Down syndrome diagnosis, a proposal that Ohio Right to Life listed among its 2015 legislative priorities.

Anti-choice Ohio lawmakers have introduced a bill that would ban abortion after a Down syndrome diagnosis, a proposal that Ohio Right to Life listed among its 2015 legislative priorities.

The bill, HB 135, would make it a felony to perform an abortion on a pregnant person who “is seeking the abortion solely because” of a fetal Down syndrome diagnosis.

“These legislative proposals interfere with the doctor-patient relationship and exploit complicated issues that can arise during pregnancy in the worst way,” Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, said in a statement. “Medical decisions should not be made in the Statehouse, they should be made in doctors’ offices based on sound medical science.”

Ohio Right to Life in February listed what it called the “Down Syndrome Non-Discrimination Act” among its top six legislative priorities for the state, writing that “while elective abortion is never the right choice, it’s particularly egregious that unborn children can be denied life simply due to the presence of a disability.”

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Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life and a member of the Ohio State Medical Board, recently echoed that sentiment, telling Cleveland.com that “everyone wants to be born perfect and none of us are, and we don’t think we should devalue life based on a false sense of perfection.”

Disability selection abortions, and in particular abortions after a fetal diagnosis of Down syndrome, have increasingly become the target of anti-choice legislation, or, as Rewire writer David Perry wrote, the “wedge” being forced between reproductive and disability rights activists by anti-choice advocates.

Though they use the language of disability rights, bills like the one in Ohio belie a conservative interest in restricting access to abortion under any circumstances, not in advocating for people who are disabled. As Perry wrote:

The tension between reproductive and disability rights that these kinds of bills seek to worsen is not a new problem; in fact, there has been a false choice between the two movements since the developments of amniocentesis made disability-selection abortion possible…What’s changed, though, is the intensifying emphasis on Down syndrome in the anti-choice legal maneuvering. As prenatal tests become cheaper and available earlier, they are being used in more and more pregnancies. As a result, anti-choicers are using their alleged concerns for disability rights as a way to erode choice.

Ohio is one of several states to push anti-choice bills using faux disability rights language. Indiana legislators introduced a similar bill this year, though it encompasses all disabilities, not just Down syndrome.

North Dakota in 2013 became the first state to pass a ban on abortion after a genetic anomaly has been detected in the fetus. Three states require counseling on perinatal hospice service available before an abortion due to a lethal fetal condition.

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