Caused by the presence of an extra chromosome, Down syndrome causes intellectual disabilities and delayed physical development. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 6,000 babies are born with some type of the condition each year.
“It just seems to me that the genesis of the bill is just about a fundamental right to be born,” said state Sen. Judy Ward, R-Hollidaysburg, when the legislation, House Bill 321, was considered Monday by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. “And that’s what I see as just a fundamental right.”
While Republicans wholeheartedly supported the measure, Democrats, such as state Sen. Judy Schwank, D-Reading, opposed the bill as an attempt to restrict women’s rights.
“I don’t think legislators, government period, has a role to play in the relationship between a mother and a doctor and her family or whoever else she wishes to consult with,” Schwank told state Rep. Kate Klunk, R-Hanover, the bill’s sponsor, during Monday’s hearing. “I just find this really troubling.”
Klunk added that her bill does grant exceptions for pregnancies created through acts of rape or incest and for instances when the pregnancy puts a mother’s health at risk.
The bill faces opposition from reproductive rights groups, such as Planned Parenthood. Another group, the Women’s Law Project, said in a tweet that the bill targets families dealing with complicated pregnancies and deprives people of their constitutional rights.
“The bill’s supporters pretend it is designed to protect people with disabilities, but in reality it merely seeks to force doctors to police patients’ reasons for exercising their constitutional right to abortion if such a decision is considered in the wake of a prenatal diagnosis,” the Women’s Law Project said Monday in a statement on its website. “It is simply more political interference into the exam room.”
Anti-abortion advocates hailed the bill, saying women are often urged to terminate such pregnancies.
“[The legislation] sends a compassionate message to Pennsylvania communities that no human being should be targeted for death by abortion because of a disability,” Michael Geer, president of the Pennsylvania Family Institute, said in a statement.
Wolf spokesman J.J. Abbott reiterated the governor's veto promise shortly after the vote Wednesday evening, noting that Wolf "has said repeatedly, he will veto any bill, including House Bill 321, that seeks to limit health care choices for women and politicize difficult moments for vulnerable families."