Kelly Kuhns rejected Down syndrome testing the first three times she got pregnant; the 36-year-old nurse from Ohio always knew she’d never terminate a pregnancy. But after her third pregnancy ended in miscarriage, she decided with the fourth to take the test.
Her hope was to help doctors guide her to a healthy outcome. What she got was a positive result for Down syndrome — and a barrage of disheartening counseling.
“They tell you of these horrific things that can happen, the different anomalies, cardiac issues,” she said. “So you plan for the worst, and I really feel like you’re given a death sentence.”
Kuhns went to her home in rural central Ohio that day and cried for hours. But Oliver, her 2-year-old son with Down syndrome, ultimately has led “a pretty normal life.”
That’s why Kuhns is fighting for an Ohio bill that would ban abortions in cases where a pregnant woman has had a positive test result or prenatal diagnosis indicating Down syndrome. Physicians convicted of performing an abortion under such circumstances could be charged with a fourth-degree felony, stripped of their medical license and held liable for legal damages. The pregnant woman would face no criminal liability.
Several other states have considered similar measures, triggering emotional debate over women’s rights, parental love, and the trust between doctor and patient.
The Ohio bill’s chief Senate sponsor, Republican Sen. Frank LaRose, said GOP lawmakers accelerated the measure after hearing a mid-August CBS News report on Iceland’s high rate of abortions in cases involving Down syndrome. The report asserted Iceland had come close to “eradicating” such births.
Iceland is one of several European countries where Down syndrome diagnoses lead to abortion at least 90 percent of time. Others include Denmark and Britain. The rate in the United States is lower — probably between 67 and 85 percent, according to one of the most recent studies, a 2012 analysis in the journal Prenatal Diagnosis.
LaRose acknowledged the bill raises difficult questions, and he wants to kindle challenging conversations.
“Some of the sweetest, kindest people I know have Down syndrome,” he said. “It’s just very unsettling for some of us that people in our society are going to make a decision that this life is worth something and this life is not worth something based on this genetic abnormality.”
Dennis Sullivan, a physician and bioethicist at Cedarville University, calls it “a modern-day form of…