Senators Are Determined for Legislation Banning Down Syndrome Selective Abortions to Come to Floor for A Vote

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Posted: Jun 12, 2021 4:45 PM
Senators Are Determined for Legislation Banning Down Syndrome Selective Abortions to Come to Floor for A Vote

Source: AP Photo/Julie Carr Smyth

Earlier this week, Sens. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and Steve Daines (R-MT) led the charge in sending a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). The letter, signed by 20 senators in total, called for a vote to take place in June which would ban abortions performed because of a fetal diagnosis of Down syndrome.

The legislation in question was introduced by Sen. Daines in March. As a press release from the senator's office explains:

 This bill: 

  • Makes it illegal for a doctor to knowingly perform an abortion being sought because the baby has or may have Down syndrome, or, if the doctor does not know whether Down syndrome is a contributing factor, requires the doctor to first ask the mother if she is aware of any test results indicating that the child has Down syndrome and to inform her of prohibitions put in place by the law.
  • Prohibits anyone from forcing a woman to have an abortion because the baby has Down syndrome.
  • Imposes a fine and/or imprisonment of up to five years on those who violate the law, and pulls federal funds under existing federal disability anti-discrimination laws from associated abortion clinics.
  • Protects the mother by barring her from being prosecuted or held liable for any violation of the bill and puts in place guardrails to protect her privacy in all court proceedings. 

Sen. Inhofe spoke to the need for such legislation. "All children should be given the chance at life and our friends in the Down syndrome community are no exception," Sen. Inhofe said in a statement to Townhall. "That’s why I led a letter with Sen. Daines to Majority Leader Schumer and Minority Leader McConnell this week urging them stand for life and bring the Protecting Individuals with Down Syndrome Act to the Senate floor for a vote during the June work period. I encourage my Democratic colleagues to join me in fighting for all of the unborn—including those in the Down syndrome community. Not only is this the right thing to do, but as the letter recognizes, this effort has the support of the American public—70% of Americans oppose aborting a child on the basis that the child will be born with Down syndrome. These children deserve a voice," he said. 

The letter cites consistent opposition for abortions due to such a diagnosis, based on an annual poll conducted by Marist and the Knights of Columbus. This includes majorities of those who are pro-choice and those who are Democrats opposing such abortions.

In highlighting the ultimate form of discrimination those diagnosed in utero with Down syndrome face, the letter also notes the disturbing situation in Iceland, where virtually all children diagnosed in the womb with Down syndrome have been aborted.

According to what information is available, the abortion rate for Down syndrome diagnoses in the United States appears to be at 67 percent. 

Before the U.S. Supreme Court in the fall term is Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health, which will decide the constitutionality of Mississippi's 15-week abortion ban. As was reported in April, however, after a circuit split handed down conflicting rulings to do with Down syndrome bans at the state level, the Supreme Court may weigh ultimately weigh in on such legislation in the future as well.

Justice Clarence Thomas, who is a reliable vote for the pro-life cause, made headlines in 2019 when he noted the Court would at some point have to address laws prohibiting discriminatory and eugenist abortions. 

"These arguments about the eugenic potential for birth control apply with even greater force to abortion, which can be used to target specific children with unwanted characteristics," he wrote. "Although the Court declines to wade into these issues today, we cannot avoid them forever. Having created the constitutional right to an abortion, this Court is dutybound to address its scope," he also noted.

As the letter notes, the "Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals recently acknowledged the importance of the government's interest in this issue as well as when it upheld Ohio's law banning abortion on the basis of a Down syndrome diagnosis... We believe the Federal government has an interest in protecting this community as well."

While Sen. Inhofe's statement calls on Democrats to also support such legislation, all of the 20 senators who had signed onto the letter are Republicans. 

The majority leader's office did not respond to requests for comment, but Sen. Schumer is known for his pro-choice position.

A spokesperson for McConnell told Townhall that the minority leader "supports and wants to see it on the floor."

Leader McConnell this week also made other pro-life comments to do with the necessity of Hyde amendment protections. As Townhall has reported, the $6 trillion budget proposal from Biden does not include such protections, meaning taxpayers will no longer be protected from funding elective abortions.