NC Senate speeds bill banning abortion for disability

NC Senate GOP leaders are fast-tracking a bill that would require a doctor providing an abortion to attest under law that the patient is not seeking the abortion because of the fetus's race, sex, or Down syndrome diagnosis.

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NC Legislature Building (16x9)
Laura Leslie
, WRAL Capitol Bureau Chief
RALEIGH, N.C. — NC Senate GOP leaders are fast-tracking a bill that would require a doctor providing an abortion to attest under law that the patient is not seeking the abortion because of the fetus's race, sex, or Down syndrome diagnosis.

Abortion on the grounds of gender preference is already illegal under state law. But doctors are not currently required to formally attest to the reason a patient chooses to have one. House Bill 453 would change that.

The measure is strongly supported by right-to-life advocates and many people with Down syndrome, but it's opposed by medical groups, the ACLU and the state's most prominent disability rights advocacy group.

The bill would require the doctor to record "whether the race, sex, or presence or presumption of Down syndrome in the unborn child had been detected prior to the abortion by any type of genetic testing or ultrasound, or by any other form of testing."

The doctor would be required to submit to state health officials "a statement by the physician confirming that the woman did not tell the physician and the physician has reason to believe that the woman did not seek the abortion because of the unborn child's actual or presumed race or sex or the presence or presumed presence of Down syndrome."

In the Senate health committee Wednesday, Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth, said it's estimated that as many as 70 percent of fetuses diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted. She told the committee common prenatal screening tests also often result in false positives.

"Should children ever have to pass a genetic test to earn the right to just be born?" Krawiec asked. "This is eugenics in its worst form."

Krawiec went on to liken the issue to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a comparison that angered Sen. Gladys Robinson, D-Guilford.

Robinson said she's a community health professional who works with minority women, many of whom have not had adequate health care or support.

"It is really an atrocity to continue to bring these types of bills forward when we refuse in this General Assembly to protect and support the very women who give birth to low-weight infants," Robinson said.

"We continue to bring up these kinds of bills that are discriminatory in fact against the very people they purport to protect," Robinson added. "So I absolutely oppose this kind of legislation."

Speakers at the committee were mostly in favor of the bill, including two people with Down syndrome and a number of parents of children with Down syndrome. Some parents said they had felt pressured by their doctors to have an abortion but chose not to.

"Doctors will tell you that you will not be able to prepare this child for life. They're wrong. They push and push," said Ashley Kean. "Doctors do not tell you the unending love and joy and laughter your child will bring into your life."

"A disability diagnosis should never be a death sentence, especially in a society like ours that prides itself on diversity and inclusiveness," said Sue Swayze Liebel with the anti-abortion advocacy group Susan B. Anthony List. "It's time our laws caught up with our basic compassion and overwhelming public opinion."

But Liz Barber with the ACLU said the bill would "undermin[e] a person's fundamental constitutional rights to abortion and privacy."

Barber said requiring a doctor to formally attest to a patient's reason for an abortion would compel the doctor's speech, which violates the U.S. Constitution. "Every federal court to consider the question agrees that a state cannot ban abortions based on a patient's reason," Barber added.

Attorney Tara Muller with Disability Rights NC said her group opposes the bill.

"Forcing people to end to carry a pregnancy to term does nothing to advance the rights of people with disabilities," Muller said. "We ask you to consider other ways to support people with disabilities and there are lots of ways. There are 15,000 people right now in North Carolina with intellectual disabilities who are waiting for basic services."

After passing the Senate Health committee Wednesday morning, the bill was added on less than an hour's notice to the Senate Judiciary committee hearing Wednesday afternoon, where many of the same witnesses re-aired their earlier testimony. That committee also approved the measure along party lines. It's expected on the Senate floor next week.

House Bill 453 has already passed the House in its current form, so if it's approved by the Senate, it would go to Governor Roy Cooper, who could sign it, veto it, or let it become law without his signature. Cooper has vetoed other abortion bills.


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