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Following Ohio, Down Syndrome Abortion Ban Proposed For Utah

Julia Ritchey
Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, R-Clearfield, unveils H.B. 205 banning abortions of fetuses with Down syndrome.

A Utah lawmaker is proposing a ban on abortions performed after a fetal diagnosis of Down syndrome.

The proposed law is modeled after similar bans that have passed in Ohio, North Dakota and Indiana. It would make it a misdemeanor for a doctor to perform an abortion knowing that a pregnant woman is seeking one because her fetus received a diagnosis of Down syndrome.

Rep. Karianne Lisbonee, R-Clearfield, is the bill’s sponsor.

“It is a eugenic-like eradication that is happening with greater frequency worldwide, including, sadly, right here in Utah,” she said during a public unveiling of the bill in the basement of the Utah Capitol.

Credit Julia Ritchey / KUER
Justin and Amber Merkley with their son Finn at the Utah Capitol. The Merkleys support legislation that would ban doctors from performing abortions on pregnant women who find out their fetus has Down syndrome.

Lisonbee said these types of abortions are a form of discrimination. Amber Merkley, a West Valley mother whose son, Finn, has Down syndrome, spoke in support of the legislation.

"I think that we need to take a stand, which is why I support it," she said. “I think that we’re perfectly willing to legislate discrimination, but we hesitate to do it for them."


Heather Stringfellow, vice president of public policy for Planned Parenthood Association of Utah, expressed skepticism of the bill's intentions.


“We realize that House Bill 205 is really about restricting access to abortion, not about protecting those with Down syndrome," she said. “The decision to terminate a pregnancy is a deeply personal and sometimes complex decision that should be left to a woman in consultation with her family, her faith and her health care provider.”

Lisbonbee debuted the bill on the first day of the session, which coincided with the 45th anniversary of Roe V. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision protecting a woman’s right to abortion.

The Legislature’s own lawyers say the measure could be found unconstitutional in court. The bill’s backers said they welcome a legal fight.


Julia joined KUER in 2016 after a year reporting at the NPR member station in Reno, Nev. During her stint, she covered battleground politics, school overcrowding, and any story that would take her to the crystal blue shores of Lake Tahoe. Her work earned her two regional Edward R. Murrow awards. Originally from the mountains of Western North Carolina, Julia graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2008 with a degree in journalism. She’s worked as both a print and radio reporter in several states and several countries — from the 2008 Beijing Olympics to Dakar, Senegal. Her curiosity about the American West led her to take a spontaneous, one-way road trip to the Great Basin, where she intends to continue preaching the gospel of community journalism, public radio and podcasting. In her spare time, you’ll find her hanging with her beagle Bodhi, taking pictures of her food and watching Patrick Swayze movies.
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