Bill banning abortion due to gender, disability advances

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Indiana would prohibit abortions based on fetal disabilities such as Down syndrome under a bill endorsed Wednesday by an Indiana legislative committee, after women who faced such pregnancies spoke on each side of the issue.

Supporters of such a ban say the measure is needed because some doctors encourage abortions after a fetus is diagnosed with developmental disabilities. Opponents questioned how often doctors actually do that and maintained that such a law would prevent physicians from discussing all options with women after determining a fetus has developmental disabilities.

Bill sponsor Sen. Travis Holdman, R-Markle, said unborn children diagnosed with disabilities deserved protection and to do otherwise was heading down a "slippery slope" on judging the value of life.

"Many of these folks have productive adult lives," he said. "I think we need to have a policy of life rather than a policy of extermination."

Victoria Barrett, a Ball State University English professor, urged the committee to reject the proposal. She said she had an abortion after doctors found her fetus had a chromosome disorder that was leading to malforming brain, abdomen and heart. She became pregnant again and delivered a healthy boy, Finn.

"If state law had forced me to carry my dying daughter until she fell apart in my womb, to deliver that destroyed body as I delivered my Finn, I would never have risked another pregnancy," Barrett said. "It would have ruined me and it would have ruined my family."

The committee removed provisions in the bill that allowed for felony charges against anyone who performed such banned abortions. Doctors could still face complaints to the state medical licensing board for violations.

Mary O'Callaghan, the mother of a child with Down syndrome, said allowing abortions in cases of fetal disorders helps continue what she sees as discrimination against those with disabilities.

"Banning abortion due to disability sends a clear message to mothers that their child's disability is not a death sentence," she said.

The committee voted 7-4 to advance the bill to the full Senate, which could vote on it next week.

The bill also would ban abortions based on the gender of the fetus.

Another bill approved Wednesday by the committee would make changes in response to a federal court ruling that blocked tighter restrictions on a Planned Parenthood clinic in Lafayette that provides only drug-induced abortions.

The judge found the law violated equal protection rights by treating the Lafayette clinic differently than physician offices that provide the same medications.

Bill sponsor Sen. Mark Messmer, R-Jasper, said the bill repeals that part of the law and that, if approved, would allow the state attorney general's office to seek an end to the injunction and possibly allow a lawsuit over whether the state can regulate such sites the same as clinics that perform surgical abortions.

The ACLU of Indiana, which represents Planned Parenthood in the lawsuit, didn't have an immediate comment.


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