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N.C. bill banning Down syndrome abortions nears floor vote

By Bryan Anderson
Associated Press/Report for America

RALEIGH — A North Carolina bill prohibiting pregnant women from seeking abortions on the basis of a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome is getting fast-tracked in the House.

House Bill 453 was approved in a judiciary committee Wednesday afternoon and is set to make one more stop later in the day in another House committee before reaching the chamber floor for debate as early as Thursday.

In order to be considered this legislative session, House members must approve it by May 13. Republicans pushing the bill say it’ll prevent discrimination against those with disabilities or of a particular race.

“This prevents modern-day eugenics that eliminates people before birth because of their disability,” said Rep. Dean Arp, R-Union, one of the lawmakers sponsoring the bill.

Democrats spoke out against the bill.

Approximately one in every 700 babies in the United States — or about 6,000 a year — is born with the condition, which results from a chromosomal irregularity, according to the National Down Syndrome Society.

During the hearing, anti-abortion activists and parents of children with Down syndrome urged lawmakers to advance the measure that is unlikely to be approved by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper if it reaches his desk. Republicans would not have the votes to override his veto unless they got enough Democrats to agree to do so.

“Women should have access to comprehensive health care and difficult medical decisions should be between a woman and her doctor, without politicians trying to get in the exam room with them,” said Dory MacMillan, a spokeswoman for the governor.

Abortion rights advocates are also criticizing the proposal Republicans have put forward. Ann Webb, senior policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, said in the hearing that North Carolina’s proposal follows a national trend of states seeking to restrict abortion access.

“Politicians should never force anyone to make a particular decision about reproduction or to become a parent against one’s own will,” Webb said. “HB 453 comes out of a national playbook of anti-abortion laws designed to erode abortion access and to push it out of reach for many. This bill is not about racial justice or disability rights, but is instead a thinly veiled attempt to strip bodily autonomy from all of us.”

A handful of states have passed similar laws regarding Down syndrome diagnoses and have been caught up in legal battles after their passage. Last month, a federal appeals court narrowly ruled to reverse two earlier decisions blocking enforcement of a 2017 Ohio law. A federal appeals court ruled in November that Tennessee could begin outlawing abortions because of a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome.

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