By Dr. Peter Saunders
Editor’s note. Dr. Saunders is a former general surgeon and is CEO of Christian Medical Fellowship, a UK-based organization with 4,500 UK doctors and 1,000 medical students as members.
Some of the most common congenital abnormalities accounting for abortions in England and Wales are ‘trisomies’, in which there are three copies of one particular chromosome rather than two.
The most common trisomies are Down’s syndrome (trisomy 21), Edwards’ syndrome (18) and Patau syndrome (13).
But how many of each are aborted?
Well it depends very much on who you ask.
The National Down Syndrome Cytogenetic Register (NDSCR) was set up on January 1, 1989.
It holds anonymous data from all clinical cytogenetic laboratories in England and Wales of cases of Down’s, Patau and Edwards syndromes diagnosed antenatally or postnatally.
Its 2010 annual report was published in December 2011 and is available here.
In 2010, 1,868 Down’s syndrome diagnoses were made, 1,188 (64%) prenatally and 680 (36%) postnatally.
Of the 1,188 babies diagnosed prenatally 942 were aborted, 25 miscarried or were stillborn, 52 were born alive and in 167 the outcome was unknown.
Of the 466 babies diagnosed prenatally with Edwards’ syndrome 344 were aborted. Of those 191 babies diagnosed prenatally with Patau syndrome 151 were aborted.
So in total, according to the NDSCR, there were at least 942 babies with Down’s syndrome, 344 with Edwards’ syndrome and 151 with Patau syndrome aborted in 2010.
This gives us an overall total of at least 1,437 abortions of babies with one of the three conditions. I say ‘at least’ because the NDSCR estimates that a substantial proportion of those babies with trisomy with ‘unknown’ outcomes were also aborted.
But if we go to the Department of Health’s abortion statistics we get a different story altogether.
The Abortion Statistics for England and Wales in 2010 were published in May 2011 and are also available on line.
But they tell us (Table 9) that in 2010 there were only 482 abortions for Down’s syndrome, 164 for Edwards syndrome and 51 for Patau’s syndrome. Together these made up 30% of the 2,290 abortions carried out for congenital abnormalities (ground E) in that year. But the total with one of these three conditions is only 697.
The disparities are astounding. 740 babies aborted with one of the three trisomy conditions, or 51.5% of the NDSCR’s total of 1,437, were apparently not reported by the Department of Health. For Down’s syndrome 460 out of 942, or 49%, were not reported.
If the NDSCR statistics are accurate, and there is no reason to doubt them, then this means that the Department of Health is being notified about less than half of the abortions carried out for trisomy 13, 18 or 21.
Does this mean that doctors are knowingly falsifying abortion certification forms by neglecting to put down the true diagnosis for babies with congenital abnormalities? Or are they perhaps, possibly even deliberately, mis-classifying them as abortions on mental health grounds? Or are they just not bothering to report at all?
Is this possibly even evidence of a failure of abortion reporting on a much greater scale?
Might this be an under-reporting problem that goes much beyond babies with trisomy conditions?
Might it actually be that only half of all abortions for any fetal abnormality are being reported?
Is it even possible that this degree of under-reporting operates across other categories of abortion, perhaps even all categories? In other words might the Department of Health figures be grossly under-reporting the total number of abortions in England in Wales?
Whatever the truth of the matter is, the disparities in the figures are alarming and need to be investigated urgently.
This appeared on Dr. Saunders’ blog.