Pope Francis kisses a disabled child during a visit to the parish of Santa Maria dell'Orazione on the outskirts of Rome March 16. (CNS photo/Stefano Rellandini)
Pope Francis kisses a disabled child during a visit to the parish of Santa Maria dell’Orazione on the outskirts of Rome March 16. (CNS photo/Stefano Rellandini)

WASHINGTON (CNS) — U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Miss., has introduced the Every Child Is a Blessing Act to combat “wrongful birth” lawsuits and prevent discrimination against children born with disabilities.

Wrongful birth cases are based on the grounds that parents would have aborted their child if they knew that he or she would be born with a disability.

As a Catholic and a staunch pro-life supporter, Palazzo said that after “coming across this disturbing trend of lawsuits, I created this bill in order to prevent discrimination and protect life.”

“I am doing what I can to stop wrongful birth lawsuits and shield children with disabilities from ever hearing that they should have never been born,” he told Catholic News Service.

While the bill would prevent discrimination of disabled children in judicial proceedings and prohibit recovery of damages in wrongful birth and life lawsuits, Palazzo explained that it would not interfere with traditional malpractice cases nor prevent cases from being brought against physicians who willfully misrepresent or withhold information from patients on other grounds.

A “wrongful birth” suit is filed in the name of the parents; a “wrongful life” suit is filed in the name of the child.

Besides raising concerns about discrimination of those born with disabilities, such lawsuits place costly burdens on the judicial system, according to Palazzo.

After wrongful birth lawsuits in 2007 and 2008 drew media attention because of the large sums awarded to plaintiffs — $23 million and $8.22 million, respectively — the number of suits have increased.

In 2013, a couple in Washington state won $50 million after the court concluded that LabCorp and the family’s medical center mishandled a genetic test revealing the child’s mental and physical disabilities. More recently, an Illinois woman sued her doctor after discovering that she was pregnant after undergoing tubal ligation and giving birth to a daughter with sickle-cell disease.

“This bill is really meant to save millions of dollars by prohibiting wrongful birth cases in both state and federal courts,” Palazzo told CNS. “Even though parents claim they didn’t know their child would be born with a disability, it does not mean they can sue and waste both the time and the money of America’s court system.”

Along with disability rights advocacy groups, pro-life organizations have endorsed Palazzo’s measure, including National Right to Life and AUL Action, the legislative arm of Americans United for Life.

“The concept that a violent prenatal death by abortion is preferable to life with a disability is incompatible with, and corrosive to, fundamental disability-rights principles,” Douglas Johnson, legislative director of National Right to Life, said in a May 12 letter to Palazzo.

In a May 23 statement, the president and CEO of Americans United for Life, Charmaine Yoest, noted that “more than 90 percent of unborn children diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted. …This chilling slide toward eugenics — specifically the elimination of persons with certain hereditary characteristics — is deeply troubling.”

The bill has been co-sponsored by 36 House members, including one Democrat.

“I believe what makes America great are the Judeo-Christian principles that promote the value of the unborn and support the dignity of all human beings,” said Palazzo, who was optimistic the bill would pass. “I am fighting for our children and our traditional family life and I hope for good things.”

Catholic News Service, serving since 1920 as a news agency specializing in reporting religion, is the primary source of national and world news that appears in the U.S. Catholic press. It is also a leading source of news for Catholic print and broadcast media throughout the world.

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