HARRISBURG – By a vote of 139-56, the House of Representatives passed legislation authored by House Speaker Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) and Rep. Judy Ward (R-Blair) to prohibit the abortion of a child due solely to a diagnosis of possible Down syndrome.
Down syndrome is a congenital, chromosome abnormality causing developmental delays and physical limitations impacting a child’s height and facial appearance. In recent years, celebrity support and public awareness about advances in support for families impacted by the condition have dramatically improved the life span and educational and work opportunities for individuals with Down syndrome.
According to recent reports, at the turn of the 20th century a baby diagnosed with Down syndrome was not expected to live past their 10th birthday. In 2018, the life expectancy for an individual with Down syndrome has been extended to age 60 and beyond.
Under current law, a woman can obtain an abortion prior to 24 weeks gestational age for any reason, except if the woman’s sole reason is to select the sex of the child. House Bill 2050 will expand that exception to prohibit aborting a child due solely to a prenatal diagnosis that the unborn child has Down syndrome. The law would have no restrictions on a mother obtaining an abortion in cases of rape, incest or personal endangerment.
“I believe in the dignity of every human being. None of us are born perfect, and we all have something beautiful to contribute. Pennsylvania is a loving, compassionate community, and we want to extend welcome and support to Down syndrome families. They need to know they’re not alone,” said Turzai.
“The future has never been brighter for babies born with Down syndrome,” said Ward. “Medical and social advances have changed what it means to live with this condition. Down syndrome means that opportunities exist in every area of school, community and even professional life. We’ve learned too much to accept that Down syndrome citizens should be considered anything less than full members of the community. They deserve respect and the protection of our laws.”
House Bill 2050 has broad bipartisan support, including more than 90 co-sponsors. This support was on full display on March 12 in the Capitol rotunda, when families, advocates and lawmakers stood together in support of protecting Down syndrome lives. During that rally, Dr. Karen Gaffney, an accomplished swimmer and public speaker who became the first living person with Down syndrome to receive an honorary doctorate from a college or university, summarized the issue better than anyone else could.
“Those of us with Down syndrome and our families face a very difficult future. We face a possibility of wiping out all of the tremendous progress we have made. Just as we are making so much progress, a whole industry has grown up focused on prenatal screening – screening that would end our lives before we take our first breath. Now that you can test for Down syndrome before birth, there are many experts in the medical community that say this extra chromosome we carry around is not compatible with life. Not compatible with life?” asked Gaffney “After everything we have done, I would say we are more than compatible. We are what life is all about. Our lives are worth living and our lives are worth learning about.”
The Commonwealth provides robust services for persons with intellectual disabilities. Over the past eight years, state funding for programs that serve the intellectually disabled has increased by 91 percent.
House Bill 2050 now moves on to the Senate for consideration.
Representative Mike Turzai
Speaker of the House
Pennsylvania House of Representatives