Critics foresee even worse numbers when introduced in all hospitals
By Dave Andrusko
Editor’s note. This story, part of our ongoing series which reposts especially relevant posts from one year ago, offered a grim warning. The easier (and earlier) it is to identify the possibility that an unborn baby may have Down syndrome, the more likely the mother will have an abortion. Critics warned this from even before Non-Invasive Prenatal Testing became widespread.
I vividly recall how Non-Invasive Prenatal Testing (NIPT) was first packaged. First, women could learn earlier in their pregnancy that their baby had a “marker” indicating he or she was likely to have a genetic anomaly, most often Down syndrome. That would give the parent[s] more time to adjust, or so went the calming reassurance.
Besides (and second) because the test was administered typically around the tenth week there would next to no chance a baby would be inadvertently miscarried, as is the case with other screening measures that take place much later in the baby’s development. So, in a sense, it was argued, this was a “pro-life” test.
This was preposterous on its face. Everybody knew it would increase the number of abortions if for no other reason (and there were plenty of others) that more and more women would have NIPT. And because sooner or later (sooner, it turned out) babies would be screened to see if they were the “wrong” sex.
The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) reported today about “Shocking new statistics” published in The Times newspaper under the headline “New test brings big fall in birth of Down’s babies: More women are opting for abortions after having DNA screening for the syndrome, raising alarm among campaigners.”
Here are the Times’ lead paragraphs:
The number of babies born with Down’s syndrome has fallen by 30% in NHS hospitals that have introduced a new form of screening.
The figures, which have been released by 26 hospital trusts in England under freedom of information laws, cover the period from 2013 — before the test was introduced to some hospitals — to 2017. The 26 account for about a fifth of the hospital trusts that offer maternity services.
More women who have the new test go on to have abortions because it is much more accurate in detecting Down’s.
Campaigners for the rights of children with Down’s fear that the trend will be replicated nationally when the NHS introduces non-invasive prenatal testing in all hospitals. Its planned launch in the autumn of last year was postponed, and a start date has not been announced.[Underlining added.]
According to the Times, NIPT “involves extracting the baby’s DNA from the mother’s blood. It will be offered to pregnant women who are found, in preliminary screening involving a blood test and ultrasound scan, to have a high chance of a baby with Down’s syndrome.”
SPUC greeted the numbers with justifiable alarm and quoted many critics. None was more poignant or to the point than this one:
Actress Sally Phillips, whose 15 year old son Olly has Down’s syndrome, and who has been a vocal critic of the Government’s prenatal screening programme welcomed the Times’ report, saying: “Since for profit motives have entered the population screen arena it has proved tremendously difficult to hold them to account.” In June, she told medics at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists’ 2019 conference that the introduction of NIPT was being driven by a global industry, estimated to be worth £4.75billion by 2025.
She said: “If making money out of testing that leads in most cases to termination is not a form of eugenics then I do not know what is.”
Despite the outward acceptance of people with disabilities, and the efforts made to fully integrate them into society, it is clear that these eugenic attitudes are rife. Paralympian Tanni Grey-Thompson said today that strangers branded her “disgusting” when she was pregnant with her daughter.
“The first thing I was offered at my first scan was a termination because people were like: ‘You should not have children’” she said.
“We had a discussion [with the medical staff] about if I was trying for babies and that individual had some quite complicated views on disability – [an attitude of] we might breed.”