Karen Fratti
November 09, 2017 11:32 am
Mark Wilson / Staff/ Getty Images

Last week, Ohio passed an abortion bill in the House of Representatives that would prevent women from getting an abortion if they learned that their fetus might have Down syndrome. Although it still has to pass the state’s senate and before it hits Gov. John Kasich’s desk, this abortion bill sets a terrifying precedent when it comes to women getting valuable medical information from their doctors — and could lead to women getting illegal and unsafe abortions in the long run.

H.B. 214 would charge doctors with a fourth-degree felony, which means up to 18 months in prison if they provide an abortion after a woman took a prenatal screening test for Down syndrome, the most common genetic condition in the U.S. They would also face a $5,000 fine and the possibility of losing their medical license. The women who had a abortion would not be prosecuted, according to the current version. Ohio Democrats attempted (to no avail) to introduce language that would not force the woman to disclose a Down syndrome diagnosis to an abortion provider, according to USA Today.

The bill’s co-sponsor, Rep. Derek Merrin told Cleveland.com that “individuals with Down syndrome are human beings. Their condition does not make them any less human than other individuals. All people have medical conditions that arise throughout life.” But a person with Down syndrome’s humanity is not up for debate. A woman’s legal right to have an abortion, for whatever reason, is.

According to national data, anywhere between 50 to 85 percent of women who receive a positive diagnosis for Down syndrome after a prenatal screening or a diagnostic test choose to terminate their pregnancies, like they might upon learning that their fetus could have any number of medical conditions. Having an abortion is not an easy choice for most women, especially those who actually want to have a baby.

Abortion is still legal, by the way, regardless of the reason a woman chooses it.

Since a woman can choose (for now, anyway) to have an abortion for whatever reason under Roe v. Wade, the real issue here is about the relationship between the woman and her doctor.

Ohio Rep. Emilia Strong Sykes said in a statement to Cleveland.com that by “not allowing honest discourse between a physician and patient,” women’s health and rights are at risk. Imagine if the law were enacted and a pro-choice doctor refused to do a prenatal screening so they wouldn’t have to knowingly provide a Down syndrome diagnosis to a woman who may have an abortion or ever, really, just to ensure they weren’t liable? It sets up an insane dynamic between the patient and doctor.

Of course, there’s also a worry, as with any restrictive ban on abortions, that women would choose to terminate their pregnancy illegally. The fact that 50 to 85 percent of women choose to terminate their pregnancy after a diagnosis for Down syndrome suggests that would become an issue. Not only could women die from unsafe, illegal abortions, could they be prosecuted, too?

The Ohio state legislature still hasn’t worked these kinks out. Also uncertain is how the state would track the diagnosis — would there be a registry? Could a women get a legal, since abortion is still legal in this country, abortion elsewhere? Ohio Rep. Brigid Kelly told Bustle, “There are still a few unknowns about practically how this would work.”

Abortion bans like these set insane precedents and put undue pressure on women and their providers. According to the Guttmacher Institute, there are 7 states that ban abortion because of gender; one state, Arizona, prohibits abortion for reasons of race. But those bans aren’t protecting any race or gender. Instead, they can lead to physicians questioning a woman’s motive depending on her own race and gender. It totally undermines a woman’s capacity to choose.

When it comes to gender abnormalities, only Indiana has a law on the books that prevents an abortion after a medical diagnosis, but it was struck down by a federal judge earlier this year. Similar bans in other states have also al been challenged in court. Namely because — ugh, why do we have to say this again? — ABORTION IS LEGAL. According to the Guttmacher Institute, three states require counseling on perinatal hospice services if a woman is getting an abortion due to a lethal fetal condition, and Kansas requires counseling on those services for any and all abortions. (Perinatal hospice care are places, or hospital departments, dedicated to caring for infants who aren’t expected to live after birth.)

There are just so many ways that this bill could be interpreted once passed and lead the way to bans on abortion for any number of reasons, as long as the right lobby was behind it or a state legislator had some obsession with curtailing a woman’s options even further. It’s especially scary in Ohio, where the state has a terrible track record when it comes to abortion. Kasich in particular just seems hates the fact that women have sex and then choose what to do with their lives. Like so many other anti-choice legislation, this bill is being shopped around as way to “protect” life, but it’s really just an attack on women.

Advertisement