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In December 2017, Ohio passed into law legislation that prohibited physicians from performing abortions if the pregnant woman’s decision was influenced by her belief that the fetus has Down syndrome. Physicians who perform abortions in these cases would face fourth-degree felony charges and revocation of their medical license. No other state bans abortion specifically for Down syndrome, but several ban abortions in cases of genetic diseases. Lower courts have struck down most such laws, holding they violate the constitutional rights of women. In February 2018, a federal district court judge blocked enforcement of Ohio’s law pending a final determination.

This article explores the compelling legal and ethical issues raised by the Ohio statute. It compares the statute with similar bans on abortion in other states and considers why courts have struck many of these bans down as unconstitutional. The article also examines the potential consequences of the Ohio statute for women and their families; for the patient-physician relationship; and for persons with disabilities. Ultimately, such laws do little to advance the values that are at the heart of both reproductive rights and disability rights movements, namely bodily autonomy, self-determination, equality, and inclusion.

Publication Citation

Rebecca B. Reingold & Lawrence O. Gostin, Banning Abortion in Cases of Down Syndrome: Important Lessons for Advances in Genetic Diagnosis, 319 JAMA 2375-2376 (2018)