Doctors should not pressure women into having abortions because medical tests indicate the baby may be born with disabilities. That was the message at a State Capitol Press Conference on Tuesday with Sen. James A. Williamson, principal author of Senate Bill 714, a measure to ban the use of state facilities or employees to perform abortions. That measure was recently vetoed by Gov. Brad Henry.
“We want legislators and the public to know the realities facing many Oklahoma families and how this veto impacts them,” said Williamson, R-Tulsa. “The truth is that women are pressured to abort their babies if tests indicate they could be born with Down syndrome or other disabilities.”
Joining Williamson were parents of disabled children, including Doris Erhart, past president and co-founder of the Down Syndrome Association of Central Oklahoma. She is the mother of a child with Down syndrome. Opponents of SB 714 have indicated that the bill would restrict doctors from terminating pregnancies at taxpayer expense when unborn children have potential disabilities such as Down syndrome. Supporters said the bill is aimed at stopping doctors from “encouraging” the procedure—especially when they may not have adequate training in dealing with unborn children with potential disabilities.
“Doctors do not know how to deliver a prenatal diagnosis of a disability to a woman, specifically Down syndrome,” Erhart said. “A recent Harvard study shows that mothers of children with Down syndrome are often given outdated information, presented in a negative way with no information about support groups—all at a time when she’s being asked to make a life or death decision about her unborn child. I believe this information is delivered in such a way as to pressure the woman to terminate her pregnancy. This is not right.”
Erhart pointed to another study which surveyed 2,500 medical school deans, students and residency directors. Eighty-one percent said they were not getting any clinical training regarding individuals with intellectual disabilities, such as Down syndrome. Forty-five percent said that their residency training regarding prenatal diagnosis was barely adequate or nonexistent. Williamson said this information cast doubt on the adequacy of doctors’ training for properly dealing and advising on these pregnancies.
In addition, Williamson noted that many of the prenatal tests for birth defects can result in false positives, with women being advised to abort perfectly healthy babies. Williamson said state Rep. Lisa Billy had shared how this exact same scenario had happened to her.
“People need to understand that this is a reality many Oklahoma parents are facing,” Williamson said. “Furthermore, the idea that any child deemed imperfect should be slated for ‘termination’ is absolutely frightening. It is hard to believe this is happening in our society, but it is, and we clearly need to stop taxpayers from supporting this practice.”