6th Circuit Ponders Down Syndrome Abortion Law

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By William Vogeler, Esq. on January 31, 2019 6:00 AM

Abortion decisions are never easy, but a case before the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals is almost impossible.

If a woman is carrying an unborn child with Down syndrome, does she have the right to end that life? Or can the government ban the abortion because it discriminates based on a disability?

In Preterm-Cleveland v. Himes, the appeals court considered the questions in an ongoing public argument. No matter how the justices rule, their answer will not quiet the debate.

Ongoing Argument

The case centers on an anti-abortion law signed by the governor in Ohio last year. HB 215 criminalizes "an abortion if the person performing the abortion knows that one reason, in whole or in part, for the woman's decision to terminate her pregnancy is a fetal indication of Down syndrome."

Preterm-Cleveland and Planned Parenthood challenged the law, and Judge Timothy Black granted their motion for a preliminary injunction. He said it was unconstitutional on its face, and cited a decision by the Seventh Circuit.

In argument to the Sixth Circuit, attorney Ben Flowers urged the justices to reverse the trial judge. He said his decision sent the message that "if you have Down syndrome, your life isn't worth as much."

Judge R. Guy Cole Jr. asked Flowers about the Seventh Circuit decision: "This is a conflict we should create?" "Absolutely," the lawyer responded.

Ultimate Decision

Jessie Hill, arguing for Preterm-Cleveland, said "the ultimate decision to terminate a pregnancy lies with the woman alone." She said she called the law "forced childbearing."

She said the government must consider less restrictive alternatives to carry out its interests. The anti-abortion law, she said, "forces doctors to deny women their autonomy."

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