Down Syndrome Families Divided Over Abortion Ban An Ohio bill would ban abortions after a Down syndrome diagnosis. It has become a divisive issue in the community, much like it is everywhere else.
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Down Syndrome Families Divided Over Abortion Ban

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Down Syndrome Families Divided Over Abortion Ban

Down Syndrome Families Divided Over Abortion Ban

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Ohio might soon become the latest state to restrict abortions. A bill to ban doctors from performing abortions after a Down syndrome diagnosis has passed both chambers of the state legislature and could be on its way to the governor's desk this week. As NPR's Sarah McCammon reports, this issue divides families of children with Down syndrome.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: There are two mothers in this story with a lot in common. Both live in Ohio. They're a few years apart in age. They both work in the medical field, and each has a child with Down syndrome.

KELLY KUHNS: Ready? Set. Go.

MCCAMMON: That's Kelly Kuhns and her 2-year-old son, Oliver, in their home outside Columbus.

KUHNS: Do you want to go eat?

MCCAMMON: Kuhns is 36 and works as a labor and delivery nurse. She and her husband have three children including Oliver. A prenatal test revealed he has the mutation called trisomy 21 or Down syndrome, which causes developmental delays.

KUHNS: I was definitely shocked. It was not what I was expecting at all. I grieved deeply.

MCCAMMON: But Kuhns says she never considered ending the pregnancy.

KUHNS: He's still a baby. He's still worthy of a life just like everybody else.

MCCAMMON: Kuhns has testified in support of the Ohio bill that would make performing abortions based on a Down syndrome diagnosis a felony. But Kuhns, who's active in her local Down Syndrome Association, says she keeps her opinion to herself at local meet-ups because the issue is so controversial.

NORA: (Unintelligible).

MCCAMMON: Two hours away in Cincinnati, Emily Chesnut lives with her husband and their four active children.

EMILY CHESNUT: What's your name?

NORA: My name is Nora.

MCCAMMON: When Chesnut was pregnant with Nora, who's now 6, she was told she had a heart defect that could indicate the presence of Down syndrome. Chesnut opted not to get any further testing because she had bigger concerns.

CHESNUT: I was more worried about her heart.

MCCAMMON: Chesnut, who's 40 and works in IT for a local hospital, believes women should be given a choice about whether to continue such a pregnancy. She and other abortion rights advocates argue Down syndrome is being used to push an anti-abortion agenda in a handful of states, including Ohio, which has passed several new abortion restrictions in recent years.

CHESNUT: Down syndrome is an easy face. Everybody knows somebody or has seen somebody or has a friend or a friend. So, you know, I really think that Down syndrome is just kind of being the pawn to the bill, which is just restricting women's choice.

MCCAMMON: Some physicians have raised concerns that such legislation could limit important conversations between doctors and pregnant women. Supporters argue it's about protecting and valuing people with disabilities. Heather Sachs is with the National Down Syndrome Congress and the mother of a 12-year-old girl with Down syndrome. She says many families are concerned about recent reports from Iceland that the genetic disorder has come close to being eradicated there through prenatal testing and pregnancy termination.

HEATHER SACHS: I'm not going to lie, it hurts, especially when you have family members with Down syndrome who are very much a integral part of their families. And so when you have, you know, news such as that that came out of Iceland, it definitely stings.

MCCAMMON: But on the question of whether to ban such abortions, Sachs says her organization isn't taking a position. She says abortion remains a divisive issue in the Down syndrome community, much like it is everywhere else. Sarah McCammon, NPR News, Columbus, Ohio.


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