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Wolf vetoes bill outlawing abortions over Down syndrome

MARK SCOLFORO
Associated Press
FILE- In this Jan. 15, 2019, file photo an America flag flies at the Pennsylvania Capitol building in Harrisburg, Pa. In Pennsylvania, good fiscal times may not necessarily mean good fiscal condition. The rage in the state Capitol right now is the surplus that state government rolled up in the almost-ended fiscal year, helped by unexpectedly strong corporate and sales tax collections. That news alone is fueling requests from a legion of lobbyists with pet projects, but the momentary surplus has not necessarily changed views from the outside that Pennsylvania is a state with tall fiscal challenges. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

HARRISBURG — A bill that would have prohibited abortions because of a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome was vetoed Thursday by Pennsylvania’s Democratic governor.

One day after it passed the Republican-controlled Legislature, Gov. Tom Wolf made good on a promise and rejected the legislation.

Wolf’s veto message called it a restriction on women and medical professionals that interferes with women’s health care and decisions made by patients and their physicians. He argued it was unneeded legislation.

“Physicians and their patients must be able to make choices about medical procedures based on best practices and standards of care,” Wolf wrote.

Pennsylvania law allows abortions up to 24 weeks of pregnancy for any reason except to select a gender. The bill would have added to that prohibition a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome, with exceptions for rape, incest and medical emergency.

Down syndrome is a genetic abnormality that causes developmental delays and medical conditions such as heart defects and respiratory and hearing problems.

The National Down Syndrome Society says about one in 700 babies in the United States — or about 6,000 a year — is born with the condition.

The General Assembly passed the bill amid a wave of abortion restrictions advancing in more conservative states.

Backers have defended the proposed legislation as protecting a vulnerable population whose lives are productive. The Pennsylvania Family Institute, a conservative advocacy group active in opposing abortion, said medical professionals have pressured women and families to have abortions after a Down syndrome diagnosis.

But opponents have argued it would have violated the right of women to make their own decisions about abortion and cautioned against forcing parents to raise children with the genetic chromosomal disorder.

Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates called the proposal an unconstitutional attempt to ban abortion in Pennsylvania, calling the legislation nearly impossible to enforce.

Wolf, an abortion-rights supporter, also rejected a measure in 2017 that would have prohibited elective abortions after 20 weeks and, opponents said, banned the most common method of second-trimester abortion.

North Dakota has a broader law on genetic abnormalities in effect, but federal courts have blocked them in Arkansas, Indiana, Louisiana Ohio and Missouri.