Florida House to consider bill banning abortions for babies with disabilities

disability, wrongful birth, abortion ban, down syndrome abortion

The Florida House Professions & Public Health Subcommittee voted to approve a bill on March 11 that would protect certain children with disabilities from being targeted for abortion.

HB 1221, sponsored by Rep. Erin Grall (R), was approved by an 11-7 vote along party lines with one Republican — Rep. Sam Killebrew — voting against it. The bill states that physicians are prohibited from “performing or inducing, or attempting to perform or induce, disability abortion.” The bill would also require the Department of Health to publish on its website specific educational information on genetic conditions diagnosed during pregnancy, to update that information annually, and for health care providers to give patients that information when necessary.

For the purposes of the proposed bill, “disability” means any physical, mental, or intellectual disability, a physical disfigurement, dwarfism, albinism, missing limbs, physical or mental disease, scoliosis, or Down syndrome. Unfortunately, purposefully excluded from the definition of “disability” are conditions that are considered “lethal,” which is a broad term. Some conditions, such as cystic fibrosis, can be diagnosed in the womb and are considered “terminal,” however, new therapies for cystic fibrosis carry the hope of a normal life span and improved quality of life. “Lethal” does not always mean immediate death, and babies with Trisomy 13 who are not expected to live long after birth are surprising doctors and thriving with proper medical care.

READ: How Poland is supporting parents now that it’s illegal to abort babies with disabilities

Parents of preborn babies who face a prenatal diagnosis are often pressured into aborting their babies. Even after refusing abortion, some doctors continue to push parents to abort solely because their child has a disability. This bill could prevent that coercion from happening, although not if the doctor deems the baby’s condition “lethal,” which, again, is a broad term.

An exception exists in the bill for women whose lives are “endangered by a physical disorder, illness, or injury, provided that no other medical procedure would suffice for that purpose.” However, there is always another medical procedure available to save the life of the mother during pregnancy: delivery. At any point in pregnancy, if the mother’s life is truly at risk, the baby can be delivered quickly and safely by emergency C-section or pre-term labor. If attempts are made to save both lives, this is not considered abortion; if the baby is 21 weeks or older, she has a chance of surviving with medical assistance.

Doctors who violate the law could be charged with a third-degree felony and could face a $5,000 fine or five years in prison. Women who undergo abortions because of certain diagnoses would not face prosecution.

“For those of you that feel as strongly as you do that abortion is health care, there are many of us that don’t feel that the killing of a child can ever be health care, and we feel just as strongly as you do in your beliefs,” said Grall.

The bill will now go to the full House.

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