Politics & Government

Kentucky lawmakers want to ban abortions triggered by disability diagnosis of fetus

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With comparisons to Nazi German eugenicists and American slaveholders, a House committee on Wednesday approved a bill that would ban abortion in Kentucky for women seeking to end their pregnancies because of their unborn child’s sex, race, color, national origin or disability.

The sponsor, state Rep. Melinda Gibbons Prunty, R-Belton, told her colleagues that civil rights laws protect Kentuckians from discrimination after they are born. The same laws should be extended to shield citizens before they are born, too, Prunty said.

Prenatal screening by obstetricians that reveals Down syndrome, disfigurement and other mental or physical disabilities sometimes convinces women to terminate their pregnancies, which the state must never allow, Prunty said.

“Demanding the right to extinguish or eliminate the life of an unborn child because of their gender, race or possible physical or mental disabilities is reminiscent of the evil social philosophy of eugenics. House Bill 5 recognizes and affirms that all human life has intrinsic value,” Prunty said.

The House Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection voted 10-to-4 to pass the bill and send it to the full House, where more than one-third of the 100 members have signed on as co-sponsors.

The legislature is moving several anti-abortion bills this session, including one that would prohibit abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected and another that would ban abortions in the state if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized the procedure.

State Rep. Melinda Gibbons Prunty, R-Belton LRC Public Information Office

Prunty’s bill would require doctors performing abortions in Kentucky to certify in writing that, to their knowledge, their patient did not want to end her pregnancy because of concern over her unborn child’s sex, race, color, national origin or disability. That would be submitted, along with other legally required information about the procedure, to the Vital Statistics Branch of the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

Penalties for doctors violating the law could include loss of medical license, up to five years in prison for a Class D felony and civil damages. Pregnant women would not face penalties.

Eight states presently ban abortion for sex selection, one state does so for race selection and one state does so for genetic anomaly, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which conducts research for abortion rights advocates. In a handful of other states, such laws have been struck down or put on hold by the courts.

Prunty and several supporters of her bill said legalized abortion has allowed pregnant women to disproportionately discriminate against unborn minority children and those with disabilities, wiping out millions of potential Americans who could have enjoyed good lives.

For example, an estimated 70 percent of U.S. pregnancies with a Down syndrome diagnosis end in abortion, said Mary O’Callaghan, developmental psychologist and public policy fellow at the University of Notre Dame. O’Callaghan said she has two sons with Down syndrome.

“Make no mistake, preventing these children’s births through abortion is prenatal screening’s ultimate goal. Insurance companies and public health programs would not invest upwards of a billion dollars annually without a perceived benefit to ending their lives,” O’Callaghan told the House committee. “This sounds like eugenics to me. It might be worth noting that the first victims of Nazi genocide were those with disabilities.”

Testifying against the bill were several women who said the decision to end a pregnancy, particularly after severe disabilities are detected, is an intensely personal one that women must be free to make for themselves.

Kelly Jones, a Fort Thomas mother of three, one of whom has Down syndrome, tearfully urged lawmakers to stop passing abortion bans and focus on assisting Kentucky families dealing with disabilities.

“There is no need wasting our state’s time and resources on the hypothetical mother on which House Bill 5 depends,” Jones said. “What about if, instead of trying to see into the future and mind-read, our government deals with the hard facts of helping individuals and families already living with disabilities in our state?”

Dr. Nicole Nolan, a Louisville obstetrician, told the committee that she sees women every week who wrestle with their decisions after an ultrasound or blood test reveals a serious problem, such as a congenital heart defect or the absence of fetal brain tissue.

“Only she can decide what’s best for her and her family,” Nolan said. “This is a diagnosis of a medical issue. The ones who decide how to deal with that medical issue should be the patient, her family, her support systems and her medical team — not the government.”

John Cheves is a government accountability reporter at the Lexington Herald-Leader. He joined the Herald-Leader in 1997 and previously worked in its Washington and Frankfort bureaus and covered the courthouse beat.