House Republicans advance Down syndrome abortion bill despite being advised it’s likely unconstitutional

Over the objections of the two Democrats on the committee, the House Rules Committee Wednesday morning advanced HB205, the Down syndrome abortion bill, even though legislative attorneys say there it is likely unconstitutional.

HB205, by Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, R-Clearfield, says a pregnant woman can’t have an abortion if the sole reasons for that abortion is that the fetus has Down syndrome, a genetic condition that hampers the baby/adult mental and physical development.

Here’s a background story on the bill.

HB205 now carries a lengthy “constitutional note,” which legislative lawyers are instructed to put in a bill if, in their opinion, there is a “high likelihood” that the bill, should it become law, would be struck down as unconstitutional by federal courts.

The HB205 note says, in part: “Assuming a court follows and applies the United States Supreme Court holdings and reasoning from Roe (v.Wade) and its progeny, there is a high probability that the court would find the proposed legislation unconstitutional because the legislation violates current case law establishing a woman’s constitutional right to a nontherapeutic previability abortion.”

Lisonbee says similar laws on Down Syndrome abortions have been adopted in other states.

And her bill says the woman would have to state to her doctor that the sole reason for the abortion is because her fetus has that condition.

So, it appears, since a woman doesn’t have to say why she wants an abortion, if she didn’t say that, the procedure could go forward.

House Rules Committee member Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake, said because of the constitutional note on the bill, committee members should hold the bill “to temper” their decision to send it out for a committee hearing.

But committee vice chair Jon Stanard, R-St. George, said Lisonbee told him she had out-of-state folks who wanted to testify Thursday before the Judiciary Committee in favor of her bill.

Chavez-Houck then tried to send the bill to the House Health and Human Services Committee, because that committee has several medical doctors on it.

Doctors who conducted a Down Syndrome fetus abortion under the bill could be held liable.

But Republicans on House Rules all voted to send HB205 to Judiciary for a 2 p.m. Thursday hearing.

In recent years, GOP legislative leaders have tried to get controversial bills – like an anti-abortion bill – acted on early in a legislative session.

That way the issue won’t clog up late-session debate and decision-making.

That’s likely the reasons HB205 is moving so quickly in the House, on a standing committee agenda within the first week of the 45-day session.

While opponents of anti-abortion or other controversial bills say Republicans are just rushing these bills through to blunt public reaction – which could build as such bills are heard later in the session.

In any case, when HB205 hits the Senate expect some emotional debate.

Late last year, Matt Hillyard, the Down Syndrome adult child of longtime Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, passed away.

Matt was often seen during the annual 45-day sessions, known for his smile and hugging of those around him, saying “you are my friend.”

And Matt’s absence is being felt in Capitol halls this session already.