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Pennsylvania

House votes to ban abortions over Down syndrome diagnosis

| Monday, April 16, 2018, 5:33 p.m.
The Pennsylvania Capitol building in Harrisburg
Associated Press
The Pennsylvania Capitol building in Harrisburg

HARRISBURG — A proposal to prohibit abortions in Pennsylvania when the sole reason is that the fetus has or may have Down syndrome passed the state House on Monday by a comfortable margin.

The Republican-majority chamber voted 139-56 to send the Senate a bill that supporters said would protect a vulnerable population.

"I think sometimes, 'Oh my goodness, what if my parents for some reason didn't think I was good enough as an unborn child?'" said House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, the prime sponsor.

The fate of the bill is unclear in the Republican-controlled Senate, but Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf opposes it.

Opponents argued it would violate the right of women to make their own decisions about abortion and cautioned against forcing parents to raise children with the genetic chromosomal disorder.

"Doctors should not be forced to become grand inquisitors, but we're left with a bill that does just that, one I hope the governor will be quick to veto," said Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny.

Pennsylvania law allows abortions up to 24 weeks of pregnancy for any reason except to choose the gender. The bill would add to that prohibition "a prenatal diagnosis of, or belief that the unborn child has, Down syndrome."

Majority Whip Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, disputed opponents' arguments that the Legislature should be focused on doing more for people with Down syndrome and other conditions. He said lawmakers have funded such efforts.

"It's simply not accurate to say these individuals are overlooked or not cared for once they are born," Cutler said.

A spokeswoman for Wolf called the bill "another example of Harrisburg Republicans exploiting vulnerable families and trying to undermine the doctor-patient relationship to score political points."

"Pennsylvania Republicans are trying once again to criminalize a health care decision that Gov. Wolf has been clear should be made by a woman and her doctor, not politicians in Harrisburg," said Wolf deputy press secretary Sara Goulet.

A similar bill that was enacted last year in Ohio has been put on hold by a federal judge, who said opponents were "highly likely" to show the law violates the U.S. Constitution.

Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates called the bill a coordinated attack on safe and legal abortion and women's reproductive rights. The group and their allies on the House floor noted the legislation was not the subject of public hearings.

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