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Senate passes bill criminalizing Down Syndrome abortions

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    State Senator Randy Gardner

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    Matt Huffman

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    Senator Edna Brown

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COLUMBUS — Identical bills making it a crime for a doctor to perform an abortion sought because of a Down Syndrome diagnosis have separately cleared the House and Senate.

The two chambers now must decide which they plan to forward to Gov. John Kasich’s desk.

The Ohio Senate on Wednesday voted 20-12 to approve Senate Bill 164, with three Republicans joining the nine Democrats in opposition. The House voted 64-31 for the similar House Bill 214 earlier this month.

“We should not be making a judgment of one life being more valuable than another,” said the Senate bill’s sponsor, Sen. Frank LaRose (R., Hudson). “To me it’s a question of medical ethics as much as anything. It’s a question of what kind of society we want to live in.”

If a doctor proceeds with an abortion after learning a patient wanted it because she knew or had reason to believe the fetus had Down Syndrome, the physician would face felony prosecution and the loss of his medical license.

Sen. Charleta Tavares (D., Columbus) argued that the bill puts the doctor in the position of detective, figuring out the motivation behind a patient’s decision to have an abortion.

“The woman should not be compelled to share any information that she chooses not to share with that practitioner,” she said. She failed in her attempt to amend the bill to spell that out.

The bill focuses on the patient’s motivation in seeking an abortion rather than on the procedure itself. Supporters portray it as an anti-discrimination measure while opponents say it is just the latest in a string of bills designed to restrict a woman’s right to choose an abortion.

The bill targets only doctors, who could face fourth-degree felony prosecution carrying as much as a year and a half in prison. They could also face civil damages.

The bill does not target the patient for prosecution.

Sen. Matt Dolan (R., Chagrin Falls) was among the three Republicans to oppose measure. He said he believes it’s unconstitutional and, in the end, won’t reduce the number of abortions.

“We are criminalizing a medical act that, unfortunately whether we like it or not, is legal ...” he said. “I am one who believes that life begins at conception, and as such we owe those lives every protection that they can have. One of them is equal protection under the law.”

But he said this bill fails to do that, treating those with Down Syndrome differently than others.

Current law, with some exceptions, prohibits abortion after 20 weeks of gestation, the general point at which the fetus may be considered viable outside the womb.

Among northwest Ohio’s delegation, Sens. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green), Matt Huffman (R., Lima) and David Burke (R., Marysville) supported the bill. Sen. Edna Brown (D., Toledo) voted against it.

Contact Jim Provance at jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.

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