ACLU Plans to Challenge Ohio’s Abortion Ban on Fetuses With Down Syndrome

Anti-abortion activist Brian Normile of Beavercreek, Ohio / Getty

The American Civil Liberties Union on Thursday announced plans to legally challenge a recently passed Ohio law that bans abortions after a prenatal test shows the fetus has or might have Down syndrome.

The ACLU said it will argue the law, which Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R.) signed in December, is unconstitutional, infringes upon a woman's right to make her own reproductive decisions, and does nothing to "address discrimination against people with disabilities."

"This ban is just another thinly veiled attempt to push abortion out of reach and interfere in a woman's personal decision," said Freda Levenson, legal director of the ACLU of Ohio. "What this law does is to deny women's constitutional right to make their own reproductive decisions, and it also interferes with women's relationships with their doctors, by making it harder to have honest and informed conversations."

The ban, which goes into effect next month, penalizes doctors who know of a prenatal Down syndrome diagnosis and perform an abortion, not the women who knowingly receive them. Physicians who violate the new law will be liable to lose their medical license and could be charged with a fourth-degree felony, punishable by up to 18 months in prison, and a $5,000 fine.

In October, Frank Stephens, a man with Down syndrome and an advocate for those with the genetic disorder, garnered media attention after delivering an emotional plea to members of Congress that his life is "worth living." He criticized those who argue that a diagnosis of Down syndrome prior to birth is cause for an abortion.

Stephens, who was testifying before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, called the practice of aborting children with Down syndrome, common in countries like Denmark and Iceland, an attempted "final solution" for them.

"I completely understand that the people pushing this particular ‘final solution' are saying that people like me should not exist," Stephens told lawmakers. "That view is deeply prejudiced by an outdated idea of life with Down syndrome."

"Whatever you learn today, please remember this: I am a man with Down syndrome and my life is worth living," Stephens added.