Arkansas Senate Passes Down Syndrome Abortion Ban

Zachary Stieber
By Zachary Stieber
March 21, 2019US News
Arkansas Senate Passes Down Syndrome Abortion Ban
In an illustration photo, a doctor performs an ultrasound on a pregnant woman during her visit to a gynecologist. (Jennifer Jacobs/AFP/Getty Images)

The Arkansas Senate voted 29-2 to approve a bill that would ban abortions that would be done solely because the unborn baby was diagnosed with Down syndrome.

Senate Bill 2 (pdf) is also known as the Down Syndrome Discrimination Abortion Prohibition Act.

“A physician shall not intentionally perform or attempt to perform an abortion with the knowledge that a pregnant woman is seeking an abortion solely on the basis of: a test result indicating Down syndrome in an unborn child; a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome in an unborn child; or any other reason to belive that an unborn child has Down syndrome,” the legislation states.

Any doctor in violation of the law, if it passed, would be guilty of a felony. The pregnant woman could not be prosecuted.

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A baby with Down syndrome in a file photo. (AP)

Before performing an abortion, a doctor would have to ask the pregnant woman if she is aware of any evidence that the unborn child may have Down syndrome.

If she answers in the affirmative, then the doctor would inform the woman of the law and request the medical records of the woman to determine whether she previously had an abortion “after she became aware of any test results, prenatal diagnosis, or any other evidence that the unborn child may have had Down syndrome.”

The doctor could be sued if he or she doesn’t inform the pregnant woman of the prohibition.

Exceptions were written into the law for cases of rape or incest or if the prospective mother’s life is in danger if she doesn’t get an abortion.

a baby inside the womb
A 3D ultrasound showing a baby inside the womb. (Fotopress/Getty Images)

North Dakota has a similar law on the books and Kentucky passed a law that banned abortion not only on the basis of disability but also race or sex. A federal judge blocked the latter temporarily until he decides whether it’s constitutional.

The Arkansas bill now goes to the state House for consideration.

The state has become one of the most pro-life, recently passing a measure banning abortions sought at 18 weeks or later except in cases of rape, incest, or medical emergency.

The bill passed the state Senate 28-6 and the state House 86-1.

According to lawmakers writing in the bill (pdf), “The United States is one of only seven nations in the world that permits nontherapeutic or elective abortion on request after the twentieth week of gestation. Fully 75 percent of all nations do not permit abortion after 12 weeks, except to save the life and preserve the physical health of the mother.”

Lawmakers said that through updated medical science, doctors and others “know more about human prenatal development than ever before, including without limitation: between 5 and 6 weeks’ gestation, an unborn human being’s heart begins to beat; an unborn human being begins to move about in the womb at approximately 8 weeks gestation; … an unborn human being’s vital organs begin to function at 10 weeks.”

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Republican Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson speaks at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, on July 19, 2016. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

“At 12 weeks gestation, an unborn human being can open and close his or her fingers, make sucking motions, and sense stimulation from outside the womb,” lawmakers added. “At this stage, the unborn human being takes on ‘the human form’ in all relevant aspects as stated in ‘Gonzalez v. Carhart (2007).’”

In addition, the majority of abortions performed after 15 weeks gestation are “dismemberment abortions,” which are prohibited under state law, lawmakers said, calling the procedure “a barbaric practice.”

Under the law, if a woman got an abortion past 18 weeks, she would not be prosecuted, but the physician who performed it would have his or her license suspended or revoked. In addition, if the doctor knowingly violated the law then the woman could sue the doctor.

According to the state Department of Health, there were 3,249 abortions recorded in Arkansas in 2017, with 173 being performed at 16 weeks or later and 75 of those being performed at 18 weeks or later.

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