Pre-natal Down syndrome abortion bill, mandated fetal burial law clear Pa. legislature | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Pre-natal Down syndrome abortion bill, mandated fetal burial law clear Pa. legislature

This week, two bills passed through Pennsylvania legislature that, if signed into law, would further restrict abortion and could create undue stress on families and providers. On Nov. 20, the Pennsylvania Senate passed a bill that would ban abortion procedures after a prenatal Down syndrome diagnosis (HB 321). On Nov. 18, the Pennsylvania House passed a bill known as the Final Disposition of Fetal Remains Act (HB 1890), which would require health-care facilities to provide burial or cremation services for unborn or miscarried fetuses.

While separate pieces of legislation, both look to restrict access to both patients and providers and are founded on misleading or non-scientific information. Gov. Tom Wolf (D-York) has promised to veto both pieces of legislation if they make it to his desk.

The legislation has also been condemned by several Democratic lawmakers, including Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Squirrel Hill), who spoke in front of the legislature and published a press release expressing his opposition specifically to the Fetal Remains Act.


“Whether families choose to end a pregnancy, or their plans for a baby are abruptly taken from them in a miscarriage, this bill would narrow patients’ options and enforce a nonmedical directive that they must mark the event with a ritual burial and death certificate,” said Frankel.

Frankel went on to explain the broader dangers of the bill, saying that it would “redefine the very concept of life" and that "if it became part of Pennsylvania’s code, it would be the first time ever that a fertilized egg would legally be characterized as a person,” referencing the fact that a burial cannot happen without a death certificate, and a death certificate implies life. While scientific consensus varies on when a fertilized egg becomes a person, it is generally not considered a person until it is able to survive outside the womb, which is around 24 weeks.

Unlike the actual bill, Frankel used the word "miscarriage" and "abortion" when describing the end of pregnancy. The Fetal Remains Act does not once include the words miscarriage or abortion. Instead, it refers to the processes as “expulsion" or "extraction."

According to the bill, the definition of the word “unborn child” is explained as “an individual organism of the species homo sapiens from fertilization until expulsion or extraction from its mother.”


HB 321 would expand upon the existing Abortion Control Act, which currently bars abortions based on the sex of the fetus, and would ban a patient from getting an abortion because of a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome.

It would also criminally punish providers who did perform the procedure. A similar bill passed in Ohio and was signed into law by then-Republican Gov. John Kasich, but was blocked by a federal appeals court in October.

Proponents of the Down syndrome amendment frame it as advocating for people with disabilities, and frame aborting a fetus with the genetic anomaly as a “eugenic practice,” like Sen. Scott Martin (R-Lancaster) did on Monday, according to the Pennsylvania Capital-Star.

In a press release, House Speaker Mike Turzai (R-Marshall) expressed his support for the Down syndrome amendment, explaining that the state provides enough funding for people with disabilities, and that babies born with Down syndrome “deserve a chance at life.”

Gov. Wolf's office released a statement Wednesday evening opposing the measures.


"As Governor Wolf has said repeatedly, he will veto any bill, including House Bill 321, that seeks to limit health care choices for women and politicize difficult moments for vulnerable families," said press secretary J.J. Abbott in a statement. "There is no evidence that this bill is needed in Pennsylvania and no disability rights group supports this bill. This bill masks yet another attempt to ban abortions and put politicians between a woman and her doctor."

Abbott described the effort as "a particularly cynical way to impugn women seeking constitutionally protected health care options."

Opponents of HB 321 believe children with Down syndrome deserve services, but that decisions involving fetuses should depend on the patients.

HB 321 also doesn't specify how it would be proven that someone is seeking an abortion exclusively because of a Down syndrome diagnosis.

“Each and every individual, from the womb until the last breath on earth, has dignity and worth,” Turzai said.

For years, Turzai has blocked the passage of LGBTQ nondiscrimination bill, the PA Fairness Act, which would ensure people are not fired, evicted, or denied public accommodation simply because they are LGBTQ.

These pieces of legislation are the latest in a series of attempts by Republicans in Pennsylvania general assembly to pass restrictive abortion bills. In October, state Rep. Stephanie Borowicz (R-Centre) and Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-Adams) introduced a “heartbeat bill” that would ban abortions after a heartbeat is detected. Gov. Wolf has promised to veto that as well.

Update: This article originally stated that HB 321 passed the Pennsylvania Senate on Mon., Nov. 18. It advanced through the Senate Health and Human Services Committee but passed the senate on Wed., Nov. 20.

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