- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 26, 2016

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri would become one of a few of states that outlaw abortions based on prenatal screening if a proposal before the Senate becomes law.

A Senate committee heard testimony Tuesday on a bill that would prohibit doctors from performing an abortion on a woman motivated “solely” by a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome.

Bill sponsor Sen. David Sater said that fetuses diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted at substantially higher rates even though the screening isn’t always accurate, but he didn’t cite a specific study during testimony.

A 2015 study published in the American Journal of Medical Genetics estimated that since 1996, about 30 percent of fetuses with Down syndrome were selectively aborted annually in the U.S.

Everyone deserves life, not just the children deemed perfect, said Sater, a Republican from Cassville. “Ending someone’s life simply because they are different or might have Down syndrome is discrimination. There is no other way to look at it.”

But opponents said this proposal goes beyond past efforts to restrict abortion access. Missouri has a 72-hour waiting period for women seeking abortions, and a requirement that an abortion doctor have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital has left only one abortion clinic in the state.

While those laws are “hurdles” for a woman seeking an abortion, they don’t necessarily violate a woman’s right to an abortion, American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri policy director Sarah Rossi said.

This bill, she said, is “literally putting up a wall - a straight-up wall - in front of a woman who wants to have an abortion.”

Samuel Lee, president of Campaign Life Missouri and a supporter of the bill, said no court case has successfully challenged similar measures in other states. North Dakota has outlawed abortions based on prenatal diagnosis of mental disabilities, and Arizona has banned abortions based on the race or sex of the child. At least four other states have legislation pending against abortions after a Down syndrome diagnosis, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research center that supports abortion rights.

Lee said this bill should be viewed as a protection for people with disabilities rather than an attempt to restrict abortion.

Dr. Kathryn Stambough, an obstetrician at Washington University in St. Louis, told the Senate committee the bill does nothing to help people with Down syndrome.

“In fact, I would argue that by ignoring the complexity of the diagnosis and the thoughtful consideration of women and their families making a decision, bills such as this do more to exploit the population than they do to protect it,” she said.

But Ryan Gallagher, the father of a 2-year-old girl with Down syndrome who testified Tuesday, said he felt deflated when he first heard his daughter’s diagnosis after her birth. But since then, he said he’s seen how joyful she is.

“Knowing a little more about a child - that they will have some additional challenges ahead - shouldn’t give a parent the right to decide a baby isn’t good enough or worthy of living,” he said.

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