With the stroke of a pen, Ohio has became the third state to sign a Down syndrome abortion ban into law. Gov. John Kasich signed a controversial bill criminalizing any abortion procedure performed after testing has revealed a fetus may have Down syndrome Friday, in a move that has spurred intense debate on women's reproductive rights.
Kasich signed Ohio House Bill 214 Friday, roughly a week after the legislation was passed by the state assembly. Under the law it becomes a fourth-degree felony for a doctor to abort a fetus if they know the procedure is being sought as a result of a fetal Down syndrome diagnosis or positive screening test. Moreover, the law does not require a concrete diagnosis of down syndrome, but rather would prohibit abortion in cases where the fetus "has or may have Down syndrome."
According to the American Pregnancy Association, Down syndrome occurs in one out of every 800 infants. As a genetic disorder, Down syndrome is often caused by an error in cell division, which results in a sperm or egg cell containing an extra or partial copy of chromosome 21 either at or before the time of conception. Those with Down syndrome have cognitive delays that can range from mild to severe.
While abortion providers could face up to 18-months in prison and thousands of dollars in fines under the law, women seeking an abortion will face no punishment or charges.
Legislators behind the law claim it is not an attempt to restrict women's reproductive rights but rather a move to end discrimination. According to a 2012 study originally published in Prenatal Diagnosis, families and individuals choose abortion between 50 and 85 percent of the time following a fetal diagnosis of Down syndrome.
"This is not an issue about abortion; it is an issue of discrimination — discriminating against a person, not allowing them their God-given right to life, simply because they might have Down syndrome," CNN reported Rep. Sarah LaTourette, the legislator who introduced the bill, said earlier this month.
Similarly, anti-abortion activists at Susan B. Anthony List hailed the law's passage as "an early Christmas present" to unborn children with Down syndrome because it "created a safe haven from lethal discrimination."
Opponents of the law, however, have characterized it as another attempt to impede women's choices. "When a woman receives a diagnosis of Down syndrome during her pregnancy, the last thing she needs is Governor Kasich barging in to tell her what’s best for her family," NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio Executive Director Kellie Copeland said in a statement released Friday. "This law shames women and will have a chilling effect on the conversations between doctors and patients because of the criminal penalties that doctors will face." Copeland also argued the law serves to exploit families caring for a loved one with Down syndrome by using them "as part of a larger anti-choice strategy" to criminalize all abortion care.
Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Ohio have also opposed the ban, arguing it sets a dangerous precedent. As of Friday afternoon, however, it was not clear whether either organization planned to challenge the law in court.
Laws similar to Ohio's new Down syndrome abortion ban have, in recent years, been passed in Indiana and North Dakota. While the North Dakota law, which was enacted in 2013, has not been challenged, the Indiana bill was blocked by a federal judge earlier this year after being challenged by the ACLU.
According to CNN, the law is set to take effect in 90 days, placing its effective date sometime in late March. It will be the 20th abortion restriction Gov. Kasich has signed into law since taking office in 2011.