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Rare 6th Circuit Court Hearing: All 15 Judges Attend Ohio Down Syndrome Abortion Law Arguments

03-12-2020
Down Syndrome Baby AS
Down Syndrome Baby AS

A federal court heard arguments over an Ohio law outlawing abortions on babies with Down Syndrome Wednesday.

In a rare full-court hearing, all 15 judges of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals heard the case with the judges sharply questioning the attorneys on both sides about the law. 

Abortionists who knowingly perform such a procedure could face a fourth-degree felony charge and lose their medical license.

Government attorneys argue the law is not unconstitutional because it doesn't seek to ban all abortion.

Judge Raymond Kethledge, an appointee of Republican President George W. Bush, indicated agreement with the government in his questions, suggesting that the Ohio law "strikes a balance between two extremes." 

Other judges questioned whether it stands up under existing law on abortion and whether it encourages women to mislead their doctors.

The Ohio law prohibits physicians from performing an abortion if they're aware that a diagnosis of Down Syndrome, or the possibility, is influencing the decision. 

Opponents say it takes decision-making out of the hands of the woman.

Jessie Hill, an attorney for the ACLU of Ohio, said  the law would "cut off communication between a woman and her doctor."

Judge Jeffrey Sutton, another George W. Bush appointee, countered: "We don't want our doctors knowingly doing selective abortions."

The case is viewed as central to the national debate over Down Syndrome abortions.  The court has moved to the right in recent years with President Trump's appointing six judges. 

The Trump Justice Department took the state of Ohio's side in the case in January, writing, "Nothing in Ohio's law creates a substantial obstacle to women obtaining an abortion."

Justice Department attorney Alexander Maugeri told the judges Wednesday that the "Ohio law serves an important purpose" and lets people with Down Syndrome know they "have lives that are worth living."

Down Syndrome is a genetic disorder that can cause a variety of physical and mental disabilities. It occurs in about one in 700 babies born in the U.S. each year or about 6,000 annually.

Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life, the state's oldest and largest pro-life group, said earlier that, legally, the Down Syndrome law is not an outright ban on abortion – since the prohibition depends on the doctor's knowledge of the diagnosis.

The appellate judges didn't give a timetable for the ruling on the case. 

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