One victory for life in unicameral as 2016 session comes to an end
The Nebraska Legislature is nearly finished with its 2016 session, and it’s unfortunate that several pro-life bills will fail to be enacted.
In 2015, two pro-life bills – LB 114 requiring higher health standards for certain abortion facilities and LB 187 related to abortion-related information – were introduced, but did not advance from the Judiciary Committee.
Both bills carried over to the 2016 session, but again received no action by the Judiciary Committee, despite LB 114 being designated a priority bill by its sponsor, Sen. Beau McCoy.
In 2016, four more pro-life bills were introduced, and three of them failed to advance to the finish line. LB 767 would have banned "dismemberment" abortions, LB 768 would have created a "Choose Life" license plate and LB 990 would have prohibited the selling of fetal tissue for "valuable consideration." More information on these bills is available online at www.necatholic.org.
The one pro-life bill that was enacted into law was probably least well known, LB 891, introduced by Sen. Lydia Brasch. The bill creates the Down Syndrome Diagnosis and Information Act to require health care facilities and practitioners to give a Down syndrome specific information sheet to parents when a test result indicates the unborn or newly born baby has or may have Down syndrome.
Down syndrome is the most common chromosomal condition in humans and the most common genetic cause of intellectual disability. Studies reveal that as many as 90 percent of babies diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted. A lack of accurate and complete information likely contributes significantly to this high rate of abortion.
One person testifying at the public hearing on LB 891, conducted by the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, was Angela Willey, a mother of a Down syndrome child. She witnessed powerfully to the pressures and biases parents encounter when they receive such a diagnosis:
"I was told that since my son had fluid around his heart, there was a good chance he would miscarry or be still born. We made an appointment with a pediatric cardiologist who determined that he only had a small hole in his heart, and that overall, his heart was in pretty good shape. But, since the window in which we could terminate was quickly closing, the majority of the information we were provided emphasized the worst case scenario of medical risks associated with Trisomy 21 and was biased toward termination.
"Without any positive support from medical professionals to guide us, I turned to the Internet for information. It took a couple days of searching to find resources that felt trustworthy and accurate, especially when we were feeling pressured to make a decision.
"However, one website that kept drawing me back included the smiling faces of about 20 individuals with Trisomy 21. It was confusing to us since the picture given to us by the medical professionals seemed so negative. I remember thinking how happy they all seemed.
"Unfortunately, after speaking to other parents of children with Down syndrome, we have learned that many received outdated and biased information when first hearing about the diagnosis. Words such as ‘challenge, risk, burden and termination’ still tend to dominate the conversations. If these words are going to be used, in order to bring the picture into focus, words like ‘achievement, rewarding, blessing and acceptance’ deserve to be added to the conversation.
"Individuals with Down syndrome are breaking stereotypes every day thanks to supportive families, early intervention and inclusive learning environments. They often have to practice more and work harder to learn new skills, but the wait and extra effort make every milestone a cause for celebration. There are individuals with Trisomy 21, who have active social lives, actively participate in the work force, live independently, drive cars, get married and enjoy life. This picture of what life could be like for an individual with Down syndrome was never shared with us by medical professionals."
Tom Venzor, associate director for pro-life and family at the Nebraska Catholic Conference, was instrumental in proposing this legislation and in coalescing support for it. In his testimony at the public hearing, Venzor stated that the "Catholic Church has a strong tradition of solidarity with those who experience a disability, whether that involves tending to spiritual needs, assisting with material needs, accompanying families in need of additional support systems, or advocating on public policy matters."
"This solidarity," he continued, "is born out of an imitation of Jesus Christ, whose ministry constantly reached out to ‘the least among us,’ especially those marginalized by society. This service of charity highlights the inherent dignity of each person as created in the image and likeness of God."
I am confident this seemingly modest bill that sailed through our Legislature with no opposition and little fanfare will save lives and will increase the opportunities for these precious souls to make our society more human.
Greg Schleppenbach is executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, with headquarters in Lincoln. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.