Indiana Gov. Mike Pence on March 24 signed a bill into law protecting babies from abortions based solely on genetic conditions such as Down syndrome.
“When it comes to genetics, it’s easy for us to say ‘if it isn’t perfect let’s abort,’” said Len Reynolds, the president of Indiana Right to Life’s Lake County affiliate. “I have had the opportunity to meet many families with Down syndrome children. Yes, they have an extra chromosome, but there is something truly special about them. I think these kids have an extra love gene.”
Photo from Gov. Mike Pence's Facebook page
The new law, set to take effect in July, says abortionists can be held liable for wrongful death if they know the mother is seeking an abortion solely because of the baby’s disability, gender, race, or other physical characteristics. Indiana joins North Dakota as the second state to enact such protections.
Indiana’s version of the law takes it one step further than North Dakota. Indiana gave credence the civil rights of unborn babies, attaching them to current protections to prevent discrimination.
The measure will place an expectation on doctors to provide clear information to women about their pregnancies. In the past, some doctors advised women only to have an abortion if their baby had potential genetic abnormalities.
Under the law, women are not held responsible for the baby’s death, even if they make it clear they want an abortion for the now-prohibited reasons. But abortionists who decide to terminate a pregnancy based on a baby’s disability, gender, or race can face civil liability and professional discipline.
Indiana already bans terminating a pregnancy after 20 weeks of gestation. New forms of prenatal tests allow physicians to determine a baby’s gender or possible disability as early as 10 weeks. Under the new law, the window of opportunity for women to terminate their pregnancies could shrink depending on the mother’s reason for wanting an abortion.
“Every part of this bill really plays to supporting the dignity of human life,” said Christina Francis, an OB-GYN physician in Fort Wayne, Ind.
According to Francis, about 75 percent of women decide to get an abortion after they find out the baby may have Down syndrome or another permanent disability. But many families under these circumstances don’t think about abortion until after the diagnosis. For some, a Down syndrome diagnosis is scary and may compel them to make a rash decision.
“So many women just come looking for answers, and they put a lot of trust and faith in what their physician says,” Francis said. “That’s why I like this law – because it re-establishes dignity to the baby when an abortion sounds like the easiest option.”
She explained that some women who really want an abortion go straight to an abortion center, and this law might not affect them if they don’t meet first with their physician.
Pence issued a statement after signing the law saying history will judge society on how it protects the most vulnerable, which includes the disabled and the unborn.
The bill originally started as two separate pieces of legislation, one to protect the rights of unborn babies with genetic abnormalities and the other to respect the remains of deceased babies who sometimes end up in landfills or 31-gallon drums. The law Pence signed requires cremation or burials for the bodies of babies after an abortion or miscarriage.
The law does not prevent abortions for lethal fetal anomalies if the baby will not survive the birth or poses a significant health risk to the mother. But for families who receive a diagnosis of a lethal fetal anomaly, the law will require their doctors to inform them about perinatal hospice care and other options for a high-risk pregnancy.
“I think this bill strengthens the patient-to-doctor relationship because it requires us to do more counseling,” Francis said. “I think doctors should be held to a higher standard.”