SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s House of Representatives passed legislation Monday barring abortions sought because a fetus has been diagnosed with Down syndrome, sending the measure to the Senate despite warnings from their attorneys that there’s a high probability a court will rule it’s unconstitutional.
Bill sponsor Rep. Karianne Lisonbee contends abortions based on a diagnosis of Down syndrome are “a eugenic-like eradication” of an entire group of people. The Republican from Clearfield said her bill is about protecting people with Down syndrome from discrimination.
The genetic abnormality can cause developmental delays and medical conditions such as respiratory and hearing problems and heart defects.
Rep. Ray Ward, a Republican from Bountiful, unsuccessfully tried to amend the bill to require that the state pay $1.8 million annually to provide services to people with Down syndrome. If Utah is going to require women and parents to take on the responsibility of caring for a child with Down syndrome, the state has a responsibility to help too, Ward said.
Ward said Utah has a long waiting list of people with Down syndrome waiting for behavioral help and other assistance from the state, including a family who has been waiting 22 years for their child to get help.
Lisonbee and other lawmakers opposing Ward’s proposal argued it dealt with a separate issue and could kill her bill.
The GOP-controlled House ended debate on the bill and passed it with little discussion of Lisonbee’s bill, instead focusing most of their 30-minute discussion on Ward’s proposal. Democrats objected, saying in a statement that there was no discussion about the possibility of the bill being unconstitutional.
“This is not a process that our House can be proud of,” said Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City.
The bill would make it a misdemeanor for a doctor to perform an abortion knowing that the pregnant woman is seeking it because of a diagnosis or suspicion that the fetus has Down syndrome.
Doctors could face up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine under the proposal, but women seeking such abortions would not be charged.
A handful of states have passed similar laws or are considering adopting them this year.