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Pennsylvania SB 21:The Battle to Save Unborn Children with Down Syndrome
Maria V. Gallagher | 15 April 2021
Incredibly important legislation.” That’s how sponsors describe a Pennsylvania bill which would provide protection for preborn babies who have been diagnosed with Down syndrome.
Senate Bill 21, sponsored by state Senators Scott Martin (R—Lancaster County) and Judy Ward (R--Blair, Cumberland, Franklin, Fulton, and Huntingdon Counties), would amend the Commonwealth’s long-standing Abortion Control Act to ban the abortion of a baby solely because of a Down syndrome diagnosis.
In their co-sponsorship memo for the bill, Senators Martin and Ward said, “A test result should not be a death sentence. . . Just as gender cannot be a reason for abortion (in PA), neither should a diagnosis of Down syndrome. Most of us know of a family blessed with a Down syndrome child, and know these children grow to lead joyful and fulfilling lives,” the Senators said. They also noted that some studies demonstrate that “as many as 90 percent of children diagnosed in utero with Down are aborted.”
Last session, a similar bill, House Bill 321, won widespread bipartisan support in both the PA House and Senate, but failed to cross the legal finish line because of a veto by pro-abortion Democratic Governor Tom Wolf. “We were extremely disappointed with the Governor’s veto but will continue to push for this legislation as we believe every child deserves and has the right to life and children with Down syndrome are no exception,” Senators Martin and Ward said.
Similar legislation is expected to be introduced in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. The fact that both chambers of the Pennsylvania legislature are pursuing Down syndrome legislation demonstrates the urgency and importance of the cause.
Pennsylvania has been among those states at the forefront of debate about how legislation can help to not only save the lives, but improve the lives, of people with an extra chromosome. Several years ago Pennsylvania enacted a bill known as Chloe’s Law which provides educational support and resources to parents who have received a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome. The measure was named in honor of Chloe Kondrich, a young woman with an extra chromosome who has become something of an ambassador for children with Down syndrome. Chloe has met with national leaders, including a President and a Vice President. She has also had her photo displayed in Times Square numerous times and has spoken at the United Nations.
Chloe’s Law was an important first step in protecting Down syndrome lives. Nevertheless, Senators Martin and Ward argue additional legislation is needed. “Although Act 130 of 2014, known as Chloe’s Law, made progress educating parents regarding the quality of life that a person with Down syndrome can enjoy, the abortion rate for children with Down syndrome is still too high. It is time to protect Down syndrome children in the womb,” the Senators stated.
Senator Martin also recognized the dignity of people born with Down syndrome in his co-sponsorship memo for a resolution heralding March 21st as World Down Syndrome Day in Pennsylvania.
In the memo, Senator Martin provided clear evidence of the tremendous progress made by individuals with Down syndrome, both in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and throughout the world. He noted that, because of miraculous medical advances, many people with Down syndrome now live past the age of 50. In fact, the life expectancy is even higher in the U.S. As Senator Martin stated, “This shows that when given the opportunities associated with early intervention, therapies, quality education, and support from families and the community, individuals with Down syndrome can adapt and thrive.”
Sadly, however, the abortion rate for babies with Down syndrome remains staggeringly high. That is why there has been such a push in Pennsylvania and elsewhere to pass legislation protecting preborn babies with Down syndrome from harm.
It is the ultimate form of disability rights protection, since people with Down syndrome continue to face the hardship of discrimination and institutional bias. For instance, the author of this article recently heard of an individual who said he supported the abortion of babies with Down syndrome. The person reasoned that children with Down syndrome would lead “horrible lives,” and thus, the abortions in his mind were justified for so-called “humanitarian” reasons.
How misguided and misinformed this individual is.
In point of fact, people with Down syndrome are challenging limits and artificially-set boundaries every day. “As a result of changing attitudes, these individuals have gone on to be productive, influential and inspirational members of societies across the world,” Senator Martin said.
People with Down syndrome are a tremendous blessing to their families, their workplaces, their schools, and their communities. We need to share more of these stories so that, when couples learn that their preborn babies are likely to have Down syndrome, they will not be fearful. Education and support can wipe out the fear, enabling families to embrace these special children with the love they deserve and the respect that is their due.
Maria V. Gallagher
Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation