Abortion disability discrimination bill signed into law

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News from Indiana

Indiana Governor Mike Pence (R) signed a comprehensive anti-abortion bill into law March 24, which, among other things, would prohibit disability discrimination in abortion decisions.

“I believe that a society can be judged by how it deals with its most vulnerable—the aged, the infirm, the disabled and the unborn…,” Gov. Pence said in a statement. “Some of my most precious moments as Governor have been with families of children with disabilities, especially those raising children with Down syndrome.

“These Hoosiers never fail to inspire me with their compassion and these special children never fail to move me with their love and joy.”

Under the legislation, abortions performed in the state are banned where the “pregnant woman is seeking the abortion solely because of….a diagnosis or potential diagnosis of the fetus having Down syndrome or any other disability.”

In the debate surrounding the bill, Down syndrome received special attention because it is relatively easy to diagnose in prenatal testing. Previous studies have shown that the vast majority of women carrying fetuses diagnosed with Down Syndrome opt to have an abortion.

Although some advocacy groups, such as the National Down Syndrome Society, have long highlighted such facts in working to combat misconceptions about the fetuses’ potential quality of life [PDF], no major disability rights group has publicized an official anti-choice position, or has come out in favor of the new Indiana law.

The Indiana Senate first passed a stand-alone abortion discrimination bill in early February, but the state General Assembly initially refused to hold a hearing. A month later, the Indiana Senate attached the measure to a larger anti-abortion package, where it was approved it by a 37-13 vote. The Assembly overwhelmingly approved the bill by a 74-23 vote.

North Dakota is only other state with a similar disability discrimination restriction in its abortion laws, passed in 2013. Similar bills are pending in Ohio and Missouri.

As written, the measure directly contravenes Supreme Court precedent, which prohibits states from banning abortion – for any reason – prior to viability, which is normally 24 weeks into the pregnancy.

In addition to disability, the bill bans abortions on the basis of the fetus’ “race, sex, national origin, ancestry and color,” as discussed in this National Public Radio interview with Leah Samuel, report for STAT. Arizona is the only other state to impose a racial discrimination requirement, although several other states have passed sex-related measures.

In addition, the bill restricts fetal tissue donation, the issue at the center of a series of undercover videos taken by the activists with the Center for Medical Progress of Planned Parenthood providers last summer. Abortion service providers will also be required to have hospital admitting privileges. The Supreme Court heard arguments March 2 over a similar requirement in Texas.

The bill goes into effect July 1.