SALT LAKE CITY — Parents of Down syndrome children urged a legislative committee with sometimes emotional testimony Thursday to pass a bill that would make it illegal for doctors to perform an abortion if they know that the woman seeking the procedure is doing so because the child would be born with Down syndrome.
"Sometimes we forget what effect these individuals can have in our lives," Aaron Simpson, the father of two Down syndrome girls, including one who was adopted, said they have made him a better person.
Doctors, nurses and others passionately argued against HB205, saying it intrudes on the doctor-patient relationships as well as woman's right to make a choice.
"I believe this Legislature has no right in my living room or my doctors office," said Catherine Balka, a nurse. Government, she said, has "no right to make me a criminal for taking care of myself and my family."
The House Judiciary Committee heard more than two hours of testimony before voting 8-3 to move the controversial bill to the House floor.
Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, R-Syracuse, called aborting Down syndrome fetuses the "worst type of discrimination possible." The legislation, she said, is Utah's "message to the world that we don’t tolerate discrimination."
Lisonbee, the bill sponsor, said the voice of an unborn child is lost in the argument that the doctor-patient relationship is sacrosanct.
"Our inalienable rights to life, liberty and property don't grow when we hit a magical age. They are there with us from the very beginning. They do not wane because someone has a genetic disorder."
Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, voted against the bill, mostly because he said it would land the state on costly litigation.
"It's patently unconstitutional," King said. "It's not a close call. If we pass this bill, we are buying a lawsuit."
King said passing the bill would mean Roe v.Wade is the law in Utah except when in the case of Down syndrome fetuses. Opponents of the measure say it turns something legal into a something illegal.
Legislative researchers attached a note to the bill saying there is a high probability the U.S. Supreme Court would find it unconstitutional because it violates the law establishing a woman's right to an abortion.
Four states have passed similar laws, and some of them have been challenged in court.
HB205 also requires a doctor to provide patients with contact information for state or national Down syndrome parent groups, and refer them to a specialist in providing medical care for children with Down syndrome.
Michelle McComber, Utah Medical Association chief executive officer, said telling doctors exactly what they have to say gets in the way of their relationship with patients.
Bill Duncan, a lawyer with the Sutherland Institute, said there are parts of Utah's proposed law that wouldn't be open to challenge. The threat of lawsuits, he said, shouldn't dissuade the Legislature from passing the bill because it is "the right thing to do."
Rep. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, suggested there might be more work to do on the proposal before lawmakers vote on it.
"Do I think we have a perfect bill today?" he said. "Maybe or maybe not."