Legislation aimed at preventing abortions due to a diagnosis of fetal Down syndrome was advanced by the House on a 54-15 party-line vote Friday.
HB 166 – Down Syndrome Nondiscrimination Abortion Act, sponsored by Representative Karianne Lisonbee (Republican – Clearfield), also calls on the Utah Department of Health to create a Down Syndrome informational support sheet and also publish the information on the department’s website. This would be shared with women who are found to be carrying an infant who has or may have Down Syndrome. In addition, the bill requires a physician who performed an abortion to state whether they had knowledge that the abortion was sought solely because the child had or may have had Down syndrome.
Included exemptions from the ban are if the life of the mother is at risk, if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, or if the child has a fatal defect. On February 6, HB 166 received a favorable recommendation from the House Judiciary Committee on a 9-3 vote.
Representative Suzanne Harrison (Democrat – Draper) voiced her concerns about the effect the bill could have on the doctor-patient relationship and the wide-reaching ramifications therein. “This bill would make Utah the only state in the nation that interferes with the doctor-patient relationship in this manner and to this degree by requiring doctors to become thought police for their patients by being forced to sign a sworn affidavit about what they knew about their patients’ thoughts, feelings, or intent,” said Harrison. “This bill literally places the government in the middle of a conversation between a doctor and her patient. As a practicing medical doctor, this gives me great distress and concern. This is a slippery slope to physicians being used as thought police by the government in other difficult conversations and difficult situations.”
Representative Brady Brammer (Republican – Pleasant Grove) expressed his strong support for the legislation and believes it is a vital measure to protect against abortion. “We have a long history in this country of protecting personhood. We also have a history of not protecting personhood. There was a time when, in the interest of property rights, we decided that black people were not people but were property. There is a time currently where in the interest of privacy rights that unborn children are not persons, but are merely fetal tissue. It’s not right,” said Brammer.
Brammer also decried consumerism and pointed to that issue as one of the main things HB 166 is addressing. “The idea of consumerism that when there is a child, an unborn child who is not the way we would prefer, that we can simply send it back. That it is as simple as saying ‘That’s more than I bargained for and I’m sending it back.’ To do that and to allow for that in the interest of privacy to me is an abomination, an absolute abomination.”
Similar bills have passed in North Dakota, Ohio, Indiana, and Louisiana. The Indiana measure was ruled unconstitutional, but Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill is urging the U.S. Supreme Court to take on the case. Lisonbee proposed a similar bill last year, but it failed in the Senate. Possible constitutional issues were identified and Lisonbee told legislators the bill has been reworked to guard against problems. She also said her bill would only take effect if the bans in other states are upheld, so as to spare the state of a costly litigation that could arise.
“There’s been a shocking increase of abortions performed only because the child may have Down syndrome, that they may have a potential for a trait that the possible parent didn’t like. This dehumanizes our brothers and sisters with Down syndrome. They are full of love. They are ready to be our friend,” said Lisonbee. “We must send the message to the world that Utah values every life.” HB 166 now heads to the Senate.