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The West Virginia legislature on Saturday sent a bill banning abortions of babies over a Down Syndrome diagnosis to the governor’s desk.
The West Virginia House of Delegates passed the Unborn Child with Down Syndrome Protection and Education Act in an 81 to 17 vote on Saturday. The state Senate passed the bill 27 to 5 with just five minutes left in the regular legislative session.
The measure now goes to the desk of Governor Jim Justice, a Republican.
The bill prohibits abortions of an unborn baby due to a physical or intellectual disability unless a physician can show that the disability is not the mother’s primary reason for seeking the abortion. The legislation also requires doctors to provide educational information to parents of an unborn child who has just been diagnosed with a disability like Down Syndrome. The bill also fines doctors who intentionally violate the law. Exceptions are permitted in cases of medical emergency or a severe fetal condition.
Lawmakers in both chambers attempted to add a more general abortion ban to the bill that would have prohibited abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, but that measure failed. Multiple attempts by Democrats to amend the bill to include exemptions for rape and incest also failed.
Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, reacted to the bill’s passage on Monday, calling abortion bans “cruel and dangerous” laws that harm the “health and futures” of Americans.
“With this bill, politicians have exploited people with disabilities in an attempt to distract us from their real intent: to ban abortion in West Virginia,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, President of Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
“In the final days of session, lawmakers’ political antics have demonstrated their commitment to restricting people’s access to health care by any means necessary,” McGill said.
Meanwhile, pro-life advocates hailed West Virginia lawmakers for passing the bill, saying they sent a strong message against discrimination.
“In passing this legislation, the West Virginia Legislature sent a strong message that eugenic discrimination abortions have no place in our society,” said Sue Liebel, state policy director for the national pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List.
“West Virginians believe no child should be targeted for discrimination and Down syndrome should never be a death sentence,” she added.
The bill was sponsored by two female Republicans, state Sen. Patricia Rucker and Delegate Kayla Kessinger in the House.
“I am passionately supportive of this piece of legislation because I believe that every life has value regardless of its diagnosis, regardless of its place, regardless of its locations, regardless of its level of development,” said Kessinger, who represents the Fayette County area.
“Every life in this womb, in the mothers’ wombs, regardless of where it is, was created in God’s image by the same God in whose image you and I were created in,” she said.
Last month, a federal appeals court allowed Tennessee’s similar law to take effect while litigation around the law is ongoing. Tennessee’s law bans abortions if the reason is the unborn child’s Down Syndrome diagnosis or the baby’s race or gender.