The Ohio legislature passed a restrictive abortion bill Wednesday, a measure similar to an Indiana law struck down by a federal judge nearly three months ago. Governor John Kasich (R) has ten days to consider the bill once it’s delivered to his office. If he does not veto the bill, it will be the 19th repressive reproductive health law passed while Kasich serves as governor.
The bill outlaws abortion if a person seeks the procedure due to or in part because of a diagnosis of fetal Down syndrome, a genetic disorder that causes development delays. If doctors perform abortion under these circumstances, they could lose medical license and face felony charges — like a $5,000 fine and 18-month prison sentence.
Opponents of the bill say it could lead to people withholding information to doctors and jeopardizes holistic medical care.
“Families have many reasons for making the decision that they do,” said Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, American Civil Liberties (ACLU) Union Staff Attorney. “I don’t know how it will work — that’s not how real life works. You can see how difficult it will make it for some women and families to impose this rigid rule [to] a complex decision.”
In 2015, Kasich told CNN he would pass a bill that outlawed abortion in Down syndrome cases. If Wednesday’s bill becomes law, it doesn’t take effect for 90 days. But it likely won’t survive legal challenges.
ACLU successfully challenged a similar Indiana law in September. The bill signed into law by former Governor Mike Pence (R) banned patients from seeking abortion due to a fetal Down syndrome diagnosis or other medical disabilities. The federal judge ultimately concluded that “it is clear and undisputed that unless Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood of Se. Pa. v. Casey are overturned by the United States Supreme Court, this Court is bound to follow that precedent.”
“In terms of the legal argument, you make the same argument on why it’s unconstitutional,” said Kolbi-Molinas. She told ThinkProgress that if the Ohio bill becomes law, “legal action is an option — it’s on the table.”
In 2013, North Dakota passed a bill that outlawed abortion due to fetal anomalies. This bill was passed alongside a more restrictive abortion bill, which banned the procedure as early as six weeks. When the bills became law, they were challenged in court. While a federal judge blocked the six week abortion ban, the plaintiffs that challenged the disability ban withdrew the claims; a court never considered the provision on its legal merits.
Wednesday’s news comes as the Ohio legislature is also considering HB 258, a so-called heartbeat bill that which would ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected — roughly six weeks after conception (and before many people know they are pregnant). Kasich vetoed a similar bill last December.
According to NPR, “neither the National Down Syndrome Society nor the National Down Syndrome Congress have taken a position on the Ohio bill.”
Leesha Thrower, a Cincinnati mother with a six-year-old daughter with Down syndrome, has. She believes this bill is pitting marginalized communities against one another.
“I think my daughter and friends are being used as pawns in a political game. It’s not about them, it’s about reproductive rights,” Thrower told ThinkProgress.
Through the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Cincinnati, Thrower meets with people who have a prenatal diagnosis of Down Syndrome. She’ll bring her daughter, and “talk about her successes and be real about the challenges.” She’ll answer any questions people have, but she won’t ask whether they’ll terminate the pregnancy. “If they choose to, that’s their legal right to do so,” she said. “I love my daughter, and I am pro-choice.”