Ohio politicians have launched yet another attack on women’s health and reproductive rights, and to make matters worse, they are mounting their attack in the guise of a concern for individuals with disabilities.
Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on behalf of Preterm Cleveland and a number of other abortion care providers to challenge an unconstitutional abortion ban. The law, signed by Gov. John Kasich, would prevent a woman from ending a pregnancy because of a Down syndrome diagnosis. It does so by criminalizing any doctor who knowingly performs an abortion sought on that basis. The law, unless it is stopped by a court, would go into effect next month.
Although it’s packaged differently from the other 18 restrictions that Gov. Kasich signed before it, this ban is just another thinly veiled attempt to push abortion out of reach and interfere in a woman’s personal decision. It’s also unconstitutional — a federal court struck down a similar law in Indiana back in 2016.
Let’s make one thing clear: This law does nothing to honor or support families who decide to bring a special needs child into the world. It does not improve access to health care, education, or other services, nor does it do anything to address discrimination against people with disabilities. What this law does is to deny women’s constitutional right to make their own reproductive decisions, and it also interferes with women’s relationships with their doctors, by making it harder to have honest and informed conversations.
We can’t know all the factors behind a woman’s decision to continue or end a pregnancy. We can, however, ensure that a woman has the relevant information and resources she needs to make the decision that’s best for the circumstances of her pregnancy and for her family. Politicians should do everything in their power to make sure Ohio women have access to accurate medical information, resources, and the support necessary to raise their children with dignity. Instead, they’re passing laws that restrict a woman’s ability to have these critical conversations, while forcing doctors to interrogate their patients.
Emily Chesnut — the mother of seven-year-old Nora, who has Down syndrome — spoke at the press conference announcing the lawsuit. She said it best:
No parent should have to embark on this journey uninformed. They should be able to have a frank, honest conversation with their doctor about what it will mean to have a child with Down syndrome. They should have all the information and be encouraged to ask more questions, so they can make this very personal decision freely, without the presence of politicians in the exam room. This bill does nothing to help with that.
I understand that talking about Down syndrome tugs at heartstrings. I understand the fierce pride and protectiveness that parents of children with Down syndrome feel. I feel it too.
This bill is not about Down syndrome. It is not about protecting our children or making their lives better.
This bill is about putting another hurdle in front of women who have a constitutional right to make their own decisions about their bodies and their futures. As a mother, I will not stand for that.
If Ohio politicians do, in fact, want to support people with disabilities, there are many steps they could take. The government’s role should be to help level the playing field for people with disabilities, who face particular obstacles in getting health care, housing, education and other services. How about we start with improving those services?