Indiana to address prenatal prejudice against Down syndrome



Saving Downs welcomes and supports two proposed disability rights laws in the American State of Indiana addressing prenatal prejudice against our community.

Senate Bill 334 (SB334) would prohibit abortions due to a diagnosis of Down syndrome and other prenatally identified disabilities.

House Bill 1093 (HB1093) would review information that health providers give to families after a diagnosis of Down syndrome and would not allow pregnancy termination to be presented “as a neutral or acceptable option.”

It would be to the disadvantage of people with Down syndrome if US abortion politics and the wider pro-choice v pro-life debate got in the way of the proposed laws. It needs to be recognised that abortion politics deals with questions around the right to life. SB334 deals with disability rights. Whereas people will differ on the question of the right to life and abortion, it also needs to be acknowledged that targeted selective abortion not only impacts on the unborn child and the parents, but it impacts on the survivors: those living with Down syndrome. It reinforces a cycle of prejudice against them, because it says: “your life is different and warrants detection for selective abortion” in a way that isn’t applied to those without the condition.

SB334 is the correct approach in terms of disability rights and is underpinned by the precedents of the United Nations (UN), the 2013 UK parliamentary inquiry on abortion and disability, and the current work of the Human Rights Commission in New Zealand.

SB334 is a stand-alone disability rights law to address prenatal prejudice and discrimination. Any other laws that impact on abortion rights would need to be passed through democratic state law. The proposal will stand on its own merit under democratic process.

Selective pregnancy terminations for Down syndrome remain stubbornly high, even in countries with full lifetime social support services for people with Down syndrome. Many European countries, the UK, Australia and New Zealand have termination rates for Down syndrome of 65% to 95% of all pregnancies. These countries also have informed consent laws that cover prenatal screening for Down syndrome. Whilst we fully support social support services and informed consent for prenatal screening, termination rates remain high in countries with those provisions. However, where selective abortion for Down syndrome is illegal, termination rates are much lower.

The question of disability rights in relation to selective abortions for Down syndrome is becoming settled in the international arena. The proposed Indiana ban sits comfortably within this context.

In 2013 a UK parliamentary inquiry on abortion and disability determined that disability selective abortion breaches disability rights and has recommended the repeal of disability as a grounds for abortion in the UK.

In 2014, the New Zealand Human Rights Commission acknowledged that disability selective abortion breaches disability rights. The Commission has launched a two-year project to address this issue and report back to the UN committee responsible for the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD). The Disability Commissioner acknowledged that advocates in New Zealand have successfully disentangled confusion between the disability rights debate and the right to life debate. The outcomes of this project are expected to be taken forward into the international arena by other countries that are signatories to the CRPD, including the US.

The UN committee responsible for the CRPD has recently made statements that disability selective abortions offend disability rights and the Convention. The committee has ruled that laws that provide for abortion on the grounds of disability breach the CRPD if they provide a lower level of legal protection before birth than others solely due to a prenatal diagnosis of a condition such as Down syndrome. Targeted selective abortion for Down syndrome firmly sits outside that understanding.

SB334 deals with a situation where a woman wants to be pregnant and then doesn’t want to continue the pregnancy because of her baby’s diagnosis of Down syndrome. The principle of non-discrimination requires that an “otherwise wanted” unborn child should be free to be born without discrimination on the basis of their disability. The emergent disability rights view is that prenatal prejudice against conditions such as Down syndrome are impermissible under the basic principles of human rights and international law. SB334 comfortably sits within this understanding.

HB1093 would review information that health providers give to families after a diagnosis of Down syndrome and would not allow pregnancy termination to be presented “as a neutral or acceptable option.” It is based on Chloe’s Law in Pennsylvania and adds one sentence from the 2014 Louisiana law to prohibit prenatal discrimination. The Louisiana law was passed unanimously in the House and Senate with full bipartisan support. We have previously discussed that the Louisiana approach is spot on. Presenting abortion as an option lowers the dignity of the child, their parents and those living with Down syndrome. Those with Down syndrome have the right to be born free from discrimination just like everyone else.

Both bills are welcomed, as they are the correct approaches from a disability rights perspective. They uphold the principles of non-discrimination and equal treatment under the law for those with Down syndrome.

We look forward to the successful passage of these laws and for other American states to show similar leadership in addressing prenatal prejudice against the Down syndrome community.

About the Author
Mike Sullivan, Spokesperson for Saving Downs
  1. Meriah Nichols Reply

    those bills are not, as you say, “correct approaches from a disability rights perspective”. They are correct approaches from a pro-life perspective.

    • Dandini Reply

      At least you are anti-diversity. . . .

    • tiffany Reply

      your rejection to the bill is nothing more than a prolife position, which is not want the ban is about & your opinions against this disability rights topic do not speak for everyone in the disabilities community. many people would like this passed. equality, acceptance, and education start prior to pregnancy and during. Advocacy after the fact when we allow these targeted abortions to happen seems trivial.

  2. NYC Parent Reply

    The problem with ‘laws’ such as these is that #1 they don’t address the reason why many choose to abort — fear of the unknown, lack of support, lack of information, lack of resources, a soceity that doesn’t treat people with disabilities well, a world that doesn’t value the ‘otherness’ of the individual. #2 those who WANT to abort for all the reasons mentioned in #1 will simply say they are aborting for another reason and not disability. O, and #3 these laws will never pass and stay on the books as they violate a woman’s fundamental right to choose, which is law, upheld by the SCOTUS, here in the US. The proposal of these laws in the US are nothing more than political pandering by the pro-life movement. Waste of taxpayer dollars, money that could be used to fund programs for the disabled.

    • Tiffany Reply

      #1 the reason many choose to abort children with Down syndrome is A.) it’s legal (doesn’t mean it’s ethical, slavery used to be legal in the US too, didn’t make it right, & now it’s illegal) B.) because people are using abortion as a means of birth control C.) those pregnant aren’t educating themselves prior to conception about the risks of having babies. #2 a woman’s choice about her body is just that her body, not extended to a baby in utero, or after birth. #3 the rejection of any of these bans on discriminatory abortions is that and that alone, the only reason there are objections is because of the pro-choice trying to defend something we’re not discussing with these bans

      • NYC Parent Reply

        The reasons you list above have nothing to do with the specific issue of aborting due to disability. They are merely arguments used against abortion in general. They don’t at all address why people abort an otherwise wanted potency.

        • tiffany Reply

          The ban is not about an unwanted pregnancy, but discrimination towards those with a disability. It is a human rights and needs to be a civil rights issue here in the US. Your first and last sentence conflict with your complaints about the topic YOU think we should be discussing and that I ventured away from.. Either your talking about disability discrimination abortions or just unwanted pregnancies. Make up your mind.

          • NYC Parent

            Sometimes, a Down syndrome pregnancy is an unwanted pregnancy. Sometimes, a pregnancy without a dx is an unwanted pregnancy. This bill specifically says, an otherwise wanted pregnancy. We need to combine our efforts to increase support for people living in the US with disabilities and educate people about Ds in an effort to dispel misinformation and stereotypes. Not waste time on bills like this. How do you enforce this? Do you make people double-dog swear they aren’t aborting because of Ds? It will simply change the reason given for the abortion, it will not actually prevent people from aborting.

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