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The Ohio legislature is expected to approve a bill that would make it illegal for doctors to perform an abortion if the reason the woman wants a termination is to avoid having a baby with Down syndrome. Since prenatal tests for Down syndrome are done in the second, or even the first, trimester, such a law is clearly in violation ofRoe v. Wade, which said that women have a constitutional right to terminate their pregnancies until viability, which occurs in the third trimester. After viability, the court said, states may, if they choose, restrict or even prohibit abortions, unless such a restriction would threaten the woman’s life or health.
Putting the constitutionality of the Ohio bill aside, what is its moral justification? One supporter says, “As soon as babies are born, they’re protected by the Americans With Disabilities Act, but we need this bill so that they can be born, and not culled.” This is clearly question begging, because it assumes that fetuses have the same moral status as born babies. The argument in favor of abortion rests, in part, on the belief that fetuses are not babies, and not entitled to the same protections that babies (like the rest of us) have. The other part of the abortion argument stems from the fact that the fetus is inside the woman’s body, and that gestating the fetus imposes serious burdens on the pregnant woman. Prohibiting abortion turns women into “fetal containers,” in George Annas’s telling phrase. The decision whether to accept these burdens belongs to the woman herself.
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