West Virginia passes law barring abortion due to disability on World Down Syndrome Day

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice signs two bills into law on Monday, March 21, 2022. One of them prohibits most abortions on unborn babies that have disabilities, such as Down Syndrome. | Flickr/Governor Jim Justice

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice signed a law Monday that prohibits abortions performed because an unborn baby has a disability, such as a chromosomal disorder like Down syndrome, joining other states that have passed similar bills. 

On World Down Syndrome Day, Justice signed Senate Bill 468, which states in part that an abortion “may not be performed because of a disability, except in a medical emergency.”

The definition for disability in the new law includes “the presence or presumed presence of a disability or diagnosis in a fetus including, but not limited to, chromosomal disorders or morphological malformations occurring as the result of atypical gene expressions.”

“Except in a medical emergency or a nonmedically viable fetus, a licensed medical professional may not perform or attempt to perform or induce an abortion, unless the patient acknowledges that the abortion is not being sought because of a disability,” continued SB 468.

“The licensed medical professional shall document these facts in the patient’s chart and report such with the [Commissioner of the Bureau for Public Health].”

Justice also signed Senate Bill 647, which prohibits those with disabilities from being discriminated against when seeking an organ transplant.

“[World Down Syndrome Day] made for the perfect day to sign SB 647 and SB 468. Both bills give deserved respect to our Down Syndrome community,” Justice tweeted.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the national pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List, expressed her support for the law, calling it “a bold step forward today in the fight against eugenic discrimination in America.”

“Research shows 99% of people with Down Syndrome lead happy lives, yet instead of being cherished and included, far too often they are targeted for destruction in the womb where they are most vulnerable,” stated Dannenfelser.

“We are proud to stand with West Virginians, the community of self-advocates and their loved ones calling on our nation to ‘embrace, not erase’ Down Syndrome.”

Also known as the Unborn Child with Down Syndrome Protection and Education Act, SB 468 was sponsored by Sen. Patricia Rucker and Delegate Kayla Kessinger, both Republicans.

SB 468 passed the House of Delegates in a vote of 81 yeas, 17 nays, and two not voting, and passed the Senate in a vote of 27 yeas to five nays, and two not voting.

Critics of the legislation included Democratic Del. Evan Hansen, who argued during a March 12 legislative debate on the bill that the law “creates government overreach into personal family medical decisions.”

“This is an attempt to use people with disabilities as props for an anti-abortion agenda, something that the disability community has not asked for, as far as I know — and that’s just wrong,” stated Hansen.

The bill’s signing comes as several other states have passed laws banning abortions based on the diagnosis of genetic abnormality.

In February, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit allowed a Tennessee law prohibiting abortions performed based on Down syndrome, race or gender to take effect, overturning a lower court ruling blocking the law. 

In September, a portion of an Arizona law criminalizing abortion based on a genetic abnormality” was blocked by a federal judge. 

Follow Michael Gryboski on Twitter or Facebook

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