Iowa Supreme Court Building
Photo credit: Ctjf83 via Wikimedia Commons (CC-By-SA 3.0)

On June 2nd of this year, the Iowa Supreme Court recognized for the first time that parents have a right to a “wrongful birth” claim. In the case before them, they ruled that parents of a child born with severe disabilities may bring a medical negligence lawsuit based on the doctors’ failure to inform them of prenatal test results showing abnormalities that would have allowed them to exercise their option to abort their child. This particular lawsuit is known as a wrongful birth claim.

The parents did not argue, as would be typical in a tort case, that the doctors’ negligent care caused their child’s disability and that therefore they were seeking damages to remedy that. Instead, their argument centered on this: that had the doctors properly counseled them about the test results; they would have chosen to abort their baby. This complaint is the essence of a wrongful birth claim.

Earlier, in this case, a lower court judge had dismissed this lawsuit saying that the Iowa Code does not recognize wrongful birth. Indeed he is correct: there is no law on the books regarding this issue. Further, that judge stated that whether such a claim should be recognized was better left for the legislature to decide. This judge properly deferred to the legislature to determine this law as that is the legislature’s role.

The Iowa Supreme Court disagreed 6-1, reversing that court’s decision and “creating” a legal basis for a wrongful birth claim, though none existed in Iowa law. They based this on the flimsy “right to abortion” created by the federal Supreme Court in Roe vs. Wade.

The Supreme Court’s action is a case of one wrong decision leading to another wrong decision taking us down the slippery slope of the devaluation of human life. How does this decision strengthen our valuing those with disabilities? The answer is: it doesn’t. It, in fact, weakens it and serves to stigmatize those with disabilities, viewing them as a lower class of citizens. It sends the message that a child with a disability would have been better off dead and had not been born. It views birth as a damaging event or as a wrong requiring punishment.

Recognizing wrongful birth claims drives up the cost of prenatal care and encourages abortion as doctors seek to avoid liability. It also opens the door to fraudulent claims and makes doctors liable for a disability they did nothing to cause. All of this the defendants pointed out and the Iowa Supreme Court recognized.

The justices noted 24 states recognize wrongful birth claims while 15 states prohibit them. Of those 15, three are our neighbors: South Dakota, Missouri, and Minnesota. Courts have upheld legislation prohibiting wrongful death lawsuits citing the very reasons I explained above.

The Iowa Supreme Court further said that if the legislature disagrees with their decision, it is free to enact legislation prohibiting wrongful birth claims. Justice Edward Mansfield, the “No” vote on the court, said in his dissenting opinion that it is the legislature’s job and not the courts to take the initiative on matters of public policy, thus rebuking the majority for their “activist” decision. Now the legislature is “pushed” into having to undo the damage to the valuation of human life caused by this court. I plan to introduce such legislation and hope to win support for its passage.

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