Raleigh, N.C. — Legislation that would prevent a woman from getting an abortion in North Carolina simply because of a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome was on its way to Gov. Roy Cooper on Thursday after it received final approval in the state Senate.
The 27-20 party-line vote in the Senate followed more than half an hour of emotional debate among five female senators.
“Children should not have to pass a genetic test to earn the right to be born,” said Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth. “This is eugenics in its worst form.”
Krawiec’s effort to frame the debate as a question of eugenics brought a sharp response from Sen. Natalie Murdock, D-Durham, who noted that North Carolina officials forcibly sterilized thousands of women, mostly poor and minority, in a decades-long eugenics program.
“To label an individual’s decision to obtain an abortion as eugenics, as this bill does, is offensive, irresponsible and warps the painful legacy of the eugenics movement in North Carolina,” Murdock said.
Under the bill, the doctor would have to submit an attestation to the state that they did not hear or have reason to believe that a woman requested an abortion because of a Down syndrome diagnosis or the presumed race of the fetus. The doctor would also be required to submit any testing results for Down syndrome.
Krawiec noted that Down syndrome tests are incorrect about half of the time, and Sen. Amy Galey, R-Alamance, said that physicians sometimes encourage women to have abortions if a test shows the genetic abnormality.
“I do not think that one person should get to end the life of another human being because of a judgment about the value of that individual person’s life,” Galey said. “Think about the distinction about not wanting to be a mother or a parent at all and not wanting to parent this person.”
Sen. Sarah Crawford, D-Wake, talked about her lifelong work with disabled people and their families. She pointed out that 15,000 people are on state waiting lists for those services and said lawmakers should work to expand those programs instead of placing more limits on abortion.
“If we want to get serious about walking with women through their journey of a prenatal diagnosis, the prescription is not to tell a woman what she can and cannot do with her body,” Crawford said. “The prescription is funding for services, information for families and comfort for families and knowing that their child will have access to education, therapies and the medical support that they need.”
Groups on both sides of the abortion debate quickly weighed in and urged Cooper to sign or veto the bill. He hasn’t allowed any new restrictions on abortion during his four-plus years in office.
“Every innocent life is worthy of protection,” Julie Scott Emmons, vice president of the North Carolina Values Coalition, said in a statement.
“This legislation presents an unconstitutional ban on abortions before viability and limits people’s access to care based on the government’s moral judgments on personal decisions,” Liz Barber, policy analyst for the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. “Every federal court to consider the question agrees that a state cannot ban abortions based on a patient’s reason.”
“By forcing doctors to scrutinize a patient’s reason for seeking an abortion, this bill discourages honest, confidential conversations and undermines the provider-patient relationship,” Susanna Birdsong, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, said in a statement. “Politicians should never have control over private family decisions nor should they force a person to carry a pregnancy to term against their will.”