The Lead

Pa. House Speaker Mike Turzai will reintroduce Down syndrome abortion ban bill

By: - February 13, 2019 3:18 pm

Pa. House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny (“Friends of Mike Turzai” / WikiMedia Commons)

Pennsylvania’s state House Speaker has fired the first shots of 2019’s culture war, saying he plans to reintroduce a controversial bill that would ban abortions based on a diagnosis of Down syndrome, even though critics say the legislation is practically unenforceable and most likely unconstitutional.

Rep. Mike Turzai, an Allegheny County Republican, sponsored a similar bill during last year’s legislative session. It cleared the House and a state Senate committee, but was never brought to a final vote. Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, and staunch abortion-rights supporter, opposed the bill.

“Under current law, a woman can obtain an abortion prior to 24 weeks gestational age for any reason if a physician deems it is necessary, except if the woman’s sole reason is to select the sex of the child,” Turzai and his chief co-sponsor,  Rep. Kate Klunk, R-York wrote in a “Dear Colleague” memo posted Wednesday.  “This bill will expand that exception to prohibit aborting the child solely due to a prenatal diagnosis that the unborn child has Down Syndrome. Nothing in this proposal would interfere with the existing ability of a woman to obtain an abortion in cases of rape, incest or endangerment to the mother, which are contained in different sections of the Abortion Control Act.”

During debate last year, Turzai and other supporters tried to portray the bill as an effort to protect the rights of disabled Pennsylvanians. But critics pointed out that the legislation, as it was written at the time, included no assistance for parents who might be expecting a child diagnosed with Down syndrome.

The bill also became the subject of a proxy fight between House and Senate leaders as debate over the 2018-19 budget moved into its final weeks. 

On Wednesday, critics again pounced, with one dismissing it as “disingenuous.”

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.