Commentary

10.09.15

Ohio Should Not Use People with Down Syndrome in Political Fight About Abortion

By

Woman Waiting

The ACLU supports a woman’s access to the full range of reproductive health care, including abortion, by working to ensure that every woman can make the best decision for herself and her family without undue political interference. We also strive for an America free of discrimination against people with disabilities. Despite recent Ohio legislation purporting otherwise, these ideals are not mutually exclusive.

Our lawmakers are trying to pass House Bill 135, which bans abortions based on a test result of Down syndrome. Doctors must submit a report to the Ohio Department of Health that verifies they didn’t perform an abortion for any woman seeking one because the fetus tested positive for Down syndrome. For any violations, they face a fourth-degree felony and loss of their medical license.

Since 2011, Ohio has introduced 16 abortion bans. This is number 17. This incessant assault on women’s reproductive freedom has been orchestrated by Ohio Right Life, a group dedicated to banning abortion in our state.

Ohio legislators are doing nothing more than using people with Down syndrome as a political tool in their crusade to ban abortion.

Let’s not kid ourselves. The true intent of this legislation is to ban abortions; it’s not a tool to make Ohio a more welcoming place for families and people with disabilities.

HB 135 will not provide any of the following for children, families, and adults with disabilities: Paid maternity leave, affordable childcare with specialists, resources for public school inclusion, accessible medical care with an emphasis on early intervention, respite care for families, and educational and vocational opportunities for individuals with disabilities..

Ohio legislators are doing nothing more than using people with Down syndrome as a political tool in their crusade to ban abortion. We can’t let legislators dodge the real issues facing people with disabilities:

  • Nearly 50 percent of people with disabilities have an income of $15,000 or less.
  • The medical costs for a child with Down syndrome are 12 to 13 times higher than a child without it.
  • Despite Down syndrome being the most frequent chromosomal disorder, it’s the least funded major genetic condition by the National Institutes of Health.
  • More than 40 percent of families of children with Down syndrome had a family member who stopped working because of the child’s condition.

A parent recently shared, “If our legislatures truly care about the people with DS [Down syndrome], then I would love to see them take this opportunity to create a more inclusive community for people with such development issues, not use people like my son to politicize an issue.”

What’s even more disappointing is that the legislature is considering proposals that would limit people’s ability to bring housing discrimination claims against landlords who refuse to rent to people with disabilities. Another bill would create a “Ward’s Bill of Rights” that conveniently omits the fact that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities have the right to vote. Not only is the legislature failing to address issues that really impact people with disabilities, they’re making the obstacles they face even worse.

This abortion ban will do nothing to address the real issues facing people with Down syndrome. If the legislators supporting HB 135 were truly concerned about people with Down Syndrome and their families, they would focus their energies on ensuring that families raising a child with Down syndrome are supported and have the resources they need. Instead, this bill further stigmatizes women seeking an abortion by turning doctors into investigators and patients into suspects.

The ACLU will continue fighting this harmful legislation. We also will continue  fighting for people with disabilities to have the same rights as everyone else in society, including control over their reproductive health.

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