A bill that would prohibit abortions after tests indicate that a fetus may have Down syndrome overwhelmingly cleared the Arkansas state Senate and is now under consideration in the state House.
The bill passed in the Arkansas Senate on Wednesday -- the day before World Down Syndrome Day -- by a 29-2 vote.
According to state Sen. Trent Garner, who introduced the bill and is its lead sponsor, the measure seeks to curb Down syndrome discrimination by making it unlawful for a physician to perform -- or attempt to perform -- abortions solely based on a test indicating Down syndrome, a prenatal diagnosis, or any other reason to believe that an unborn child has the condition.
"I decided to push the bill forward to protect those that were born differently," Garner told CNN. "Through the disastrous procedure of abortion, we lose valuable and special people from society."
Under the proposed law, a physician would have to inform patients of the law, ask a pregnant woman if she is aware of test results, and request medical records. He or she is prohibited from performing the abortion for at least two weeks to obtain the records. There are caveats: a physician may go through with the procedure if the pregnancy puts the life of the mother or unborn child at harm, or if it is a result of rape or incest.
If the measure becomes law, physicians who violate it would face a Class-D felony , which can be punishable by up to six years in prison, and his or her medical license would be revoked. The measure, known as Senate Bill 2, states that a pregnant woman who received an abortion and was uninformed of this law may seek damages, but if she knows the law and undergoes an abortion, she will not face legal punishment.
Down syndrome is a genetic condition that affects cognitive ability, causing mild to severe learning disabilities and distinctive facial characteristics. About 6,000 babies are born with Down syndrome each year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This bill is not the first of its kind
If the measure becomes law, Arkansas would join North Dakota and Utah, which have similar measures already passed as laws. Ohio and Indiana state passed comparable laws, but both were blocked by a federal judge in 2018.
Arkansas already has several laws restricting abortion, including a statute that prohibits abortions after 18 weeks, except in a medical emergency.
Karen Musick, a board member at the Arkansas Coalition for Reproductive Justice, a grassroots organization, says the climate in Arkansas surrounding abortion makes it harder for women who are already struggling with the decision to abort an unborn child.
"The bill has nothing to do with the value of people living with Down syndrome. It does not improve access to care or assist with the massive financial and structural costs needed to raise a child with special needs," the group said in a statement.
The group said it isn't prepared to take legal action against the bill if it passes and is signed in to law. "There are far too many [bills] to focus on," Musick said.
Sen. Garner, a Republican, says he feels confident that the bill will pass in the House and be signed into law by Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
The House committee on public health, welfare and labor will take testimony on bill next week Wednesday.