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Pennsylvania Governor Vetoes Bill Banning Down-Syndrome Abortion

Tom Wolf delivers a speech after being sworn in as the 47th Governor of Pennsylvania. January 20, 2015. (Mark Makela/Reuters)

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf on Thursday vetoed a bill that would have prohibited women from choosing abortion because of a Down-syndrome diagnosis.

“This legislation is a restriction on women and medical professionals and interferes with women’s health care and the crucial decision-making between patients and their physicians,” the Democratic governor said in a statement. “Physicians and their patients must be able to make choices about medical procedures based on best practices and standards of care.”

Abortion is legal in Pennsylvania during the first 24 weeks of pregnancy for any reason except the gender of the fetus. The bill, which passed the Republican-controlled legislature a day earlier, aimed to protect against abortions over a prenatal Down-syndrome diagnosis as well, although it included exceptions for rape, incest, and medical emergencies.

Wold argued that the bill was unconstitutional and “not consistent with the fundamental rights” protected by the 14th Amendment, which guarantees the right to privacy.

“Further, I am not aware of a single disability-rights group that supports this bill,” Wolf continued. “I support continuing the bipartisan work that’s been done to help people with disabilities. I also believe there is much more Pennsylvania could do to help women and families facing complex pregnancies. However, this bill does not aid in either of these efforts.”

Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates also objected to the bill, saying it is unconstitutional and nearly impossible to enforce.

According to the National Down Syndrome Society, one in 700 babies in the U.S., about 6,000 a year, is born with Down syndrome, a genetic condition caused by the presence of an extra chromosome and marked by developmental and physical growth delays.

Wolf’s decision jives with a federal-appeals court’s October ruling that Ohio may not enforce a law barring doctors from performing abortions on mothers who want the procedure because of a fetal diagnosis of Down syndrome.

The governor is a vocal abortion rights supporter and also rejected a measure in 2017 that would have banned elective abortions after 20 weeks, a week earlier than the youngest premature baby has survived. In August, Wolf’s administration also announced plans to close two state centers for the intellectually and developmentally disabled, including some with Down syndrome. A previous closure of a similar facility in Pennsylvania resulted in the deaths of eleven of the 85 former residents.

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