Saturday, March 10, 2018

Committee hears but doesn't vote on bill that would ban women from having an abortion if fetus has Down syndrome

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

FRANKFORT, Ky. -- A bill to prohibit abortion of a fetus that may have Down syndrome was heard by the House Health and Family Services Committee in a specially called March 8 meeting that included several other bills, but no vote was taken on the abortion measure. Only Republican legislators attended.

The day before, the House Judiciary Committee passed House Bill 454, an abortion bill to ban the most common method of second-trimester abortion, known as dilation and evacuation, or D&E, after roughly 11 weeks of pregnancy except in medical emergencies. That bill is sponsored by Rep. Addia Wuchner, R-Florence, who chairs the health committee.

At the end of the discussion, Wuchner called abortions of Down syndrome fetuses "modern eugenics," but said a vote would not be taken so the subject could be further explored.

Rep. Melinda G, Prunty
House Bill 455, sponsored by Rep. Melinda Gibbons Prunty, R-Greenville, would prohibit an abortion if the pregnant woman is seeking the abortion, in whole or in part, due to a diagnosis of Down syndrome or a test result indicating it, or any other reason to believe that the child has Down syndrome.

The bill would require physicians to certify in writing a lack of knowledge of such circumstances. Abortion providers found in violation would have their licenses revoked and would also be guilty of a felony that carries a prison sentence. The woman undergoing the procedure would not be prosecuted.

Prunty told committee members that the bill is about protecting the rights of the disabled. “House Bill 455 is simply an anti-discrimination, anti-human rights piece of legislation,” she said. Prunty is opposed for re-election by ex-Rep. Brent Yonts of Greenville, whom she ousted with 57 percent of the vote in 2016.

The four people who spoke in opposition to the bill were given 10 minutes to make their case.

Joan Kofodimos, mother of a developmentally disabled daughter, contrasted Prunty's mention of ethical human treatment to cuts in programs that support people with disabilities.

“If you’re not supporting the lives of people with disabilities who are born, who are living, then this bill is really about something else," Kofodimos said. "And to me what it's about is an effort to restrict women's ability to make their own legal choice to access a safe abortion by planting the seed that women need to justify their reasons for an abortion, and you do that by exploiting folks with Down syndrome and people's sympathy for them."

Dr. Kenny Zegart, a retired obstetrician-gynecologist, said patients need providers who will give them “unbiased, medically accurate information without the legislative bully pulpit hanging over them. . . . This bill is about instilling fear in physicians and their patients.”

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