Editorial: Pa. abortion law will fail to catch fallout


House Speaker Mike Turzai delivering a speech in October. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Even though the Supreme Court declared abortion a constitutional right 45 years ago with Roe v. Wade, Pennsylvania House of Representatives Speaker Mike Turzai seemingly pushed against that decision Monday.

The Republican lawmaker unveiled a controversial bill in front of the Health Committee that would ban abortions for any fetus a doctor believes might have Down syndrome. The bill could come to a vote as early as next week.

Regardless of the overall abortion debate, Turazi’s bill is riddled with flaws that should be enough for any legislator to oppose it.

As with many abortion debates, Democrats ferociously opposed the bill, stating the government shouldn’t control women’s health decisions. In response, Turzai said he views this bill as “disability rights” legislation for unborn children.

In Pennsylvania, abortion is legal up to 20 weeks — so women should be allowed an abortion, without exception, during that time frame. Similar bills have passed in Ohio and Indiana — but each is flawed in the same way. They prohibit abortions for any fetus that tests positive for Down syndrome regardless of stage of gestation, meaning a woman who wants to abort her fetus for other reasons cannot do so.

And basing the ban on a doctor’s mere “belief” that a child has Down syndrome — or even an official diagnosis — is too vague a standard to impose in any form of legislation. Prenatal screenings to diagnose Down syndrome have an only 80 percent accuracy rate, meaning available technology isn’t even specific enough to account for the ambiguity Turzai’s legislation would introduce.

In essence, the bill allows individual doctors to arbitrarily decide whether a woman can exercise her state-granted right to an abortion as the law currently permits.

Turzai may feel like he is protecting kids with serious incurable conditions, but he’s missing the big picture. Imposing ambiguous restrictions to the Commonwealth’s current abortion laws paves the way for a widespread attack on reproductive rights, and a bill like this would do nothing to actually aid children born with Down syndrome.

If Turzai and other lawmakers truly cared about children with Down syndrome, they would support financial aid and special services for their families.

Bills as vaguely worded and poorly substantiated as this one seem like a desperate attempt to roll back women’s reproductive rights, according to executive director of Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Sari Stevens.

“Proponents tout this measure as a protection for children and families,” she said. “Yet, this very same committee later this week is poised to vote on several other measures that will make it harder for children and families to access healthy food and quality health care through Medicaid.”

Instead of protecting the rights of the disabled, Turzai and other Republicans are only unnecessarily restricting women’s rights.

It’s unclear whether this bill will pass the Republican-controlled Senate. But anyone, regardless of their political affiliation, should oppose it. Any piece of legislation this vague is doomed to become a legal nightmare.