Cooper vetoes bill that would have banned abortions on the basis of Down syndrome diagnosis

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed on Friday a measure barring women from getting an abortion specifically because of a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome in a fetus. The proposal advanced by Republicans also sought to prohibit abortions on the basis of race or sex.

Under the measure, physicians would be required to report, with a signed confirmation, that an abortion was not desired for those three reasons. Republicans backing the measure say it would prevent a "modern-day eugenics" by ensuring disabled people wouldn't need to pass a genetic test in order to be born.

In a veto message, the state's Democratic governor cited privacy concerns, arguing the bill would have made it difficult for patients to get medical information and have honest conversations with their doctors.

"This bill gives the government control over what happens and what is said in the exam room between a woman and her doctor at a time she faces one of the most difficult decisions of her life," Cooper said in a statement. "This bill is unconstitutional and it damages the doctor-patient relationship with an unprecedented government intrusion."

Republican sponsors face a difficult challenge in overriding Cooper's veto. They'd need support from multiple Democrats in each chamber to complete the override. While six House Democrats joined Republicans in supporting the bill, the Senate vote was split along party lines.

"With a stroke of his pen, Gov. Cooper just told North Carolinians that it's OK to discriminate based on race or disability as long as it's in the womb," said Sen. Amy Galey, R-Alamance. "This bill simply put an end to eugenics. It shouldn't be controversial to protect an unborn child with Down syndrome, but Gov. Cooper proves once again that he's unwilling to stand up for North Carolinians when his left-wing donors demand his loyalty."

Abortions on the basis of sex selection are already outlawed in North Carolina. The bill would have strengthened the existing law by adding a mandate that physicians complete a form with signed confirmation that an abortion was not wanted because of a fetus's race, sex or Down syndrome diagnosis.

Several states have already enacted similar plans. South Dakota Republican Gov. Kristi Noem signed a bill in March barring women from seeking abortions based on the detection of Down syndrome. Arizona GOP Gov. Dough Ducey approved a bill in April to outlaw the procedure if a woman is seeking an abortion solely because a fetus has a genetic abnormality such as Down syndrome. A divided federal appeals court ruled earlier that month that Ohio could enforce a similar 2017 anti-abortion law the state passed but had on hold as it worked its way through the courts.

"Gender, race, and disability are protected classes in most other contexts. Why should we allow the unborn to be discriminated against for these same traits? said House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland. "The message sent by this veto is that some human life is more valuable than others based on immutable characteristics. "This bill had bipartisan support in the House, and we will continue to work hard to protect the unborn. And we will support individuals with disabilities and the families who care for them. They deserve nothing less."

Meanwhile, Democratic lawmakers and abortion rights groups in North Carolina have said House Bill 453 would force women to give birth, even if a Down syndrome diagnosis was just one of many factors that contributed to their decision.

The NC Values Coalition condemned Cooper's decision.

"It is unfortunate that Governor Cooper missed this opportunity to protect our precious preborn babies who have Down syndrome. Every single person--regardless of how many chromosomes they have-has inherent dignity, worth, and unlimited potential," said Julie Scott Emmons, the group's vice president. "North Carolina should be a state where differences are celebrated and all babies are welcome. We encourage members of the North Carolina General Assembly to embrace Life and ensure that this legislation becomes law."

The American Civil Liberties Union applauded the veto, saying Cooper defended reproductive "freedom."

"Vetoing HB 453 is a step toward protecting North Carolinians' right to decide if and when they want to become parents," said Liz Barber, policy analyst for the ACLU of North Carolina. "We have a lot of work to do to end discrimination against marginalized groups, but unconstitutionally limiting access to medical care based on the government's moral judgment does not contribute in any way to those efforts. Each and every North Carolinian should have the freedom to practice discretion in their reproductive choices."
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