The following comes from an April 21 Dozer Institute article by Mark Bradford:
How many babies prenatally diagnosed with Down Syndrome are aborted in the United States each year? Well, we don’t know. While new data suggesting lower numbers has recently been published, we continue to see most often in print a statistics of 90% – 92%. While that certainly draws attention to the horrifying reality that the majority of children prenatally diagnosed with Down Syndrome are aborted, it is not accurate. That number relies on a 1999 European study with little data drawn from the U.S. There are good reasons for advocates to use the best data available to raise awareness of the problem that exists in the link between prenatal diagnosis and abortion.
A new study conducted by Gert de Graaf, Frank Buckley, and Brian Skotko and recently published in the American Journal of Medical Genetics applies rigorous statistical modeling to diverse data sets in an attempt to provide the most accurate number possible. It is important to know over time what impact relatively new noninvasive prenatal screening technologies, only available since October 2011, will have on the already high termination rate after a prenatal diagnosis of Down Syndrome.
These new tests are able to identify cell-free DNA from the placenta in the mother’s blood as early as 10 weeks into her pregnancy, and claim to inform women – with near 99% sensitivity and specificity – if the baby she is carrying might have Down Syndrome. Recent reports have indicated that some women are using these tests to make the decision to end their pregnancy without having the result confirmed with an invasive diagnostic test.
The authors of this study gathered data that is available and devised a sophisticated statistical model to estimate as closely as possible the impact of prenatal diagnosis on abortion rates. They then asked this question: How many children with Down Syndrome have been born, and what has been the net effect of pregnancy terminations following prenatal testing on live birth prevalence during the period from 1900–2010? Given that prenatal diagnosis and legal abortion weren’t available before about 1974, the authors focused on the years from 1974 to 2010 to develop their estimates.
The net result of their research is that abortion after prenatal diagnosis has reduced the population of individuals living with Down Syndrome in the U.S. by approximately 30%. This should not be confused with the percentage of women who abort following a prenatal diagnosis. That number would certainly be higher. This reflects the overall reduction in the Down Syndrome population, and takes into consideration total Down Syndrome pregnancies, whether prenatally diagnosed or not. The authors state that prior to October 2011 and the availability of NIPS, about 72% of women elected to have traditional prenatal screens and only an estimated maximum of 2% went on to have invasive diagnostic procedures, i.e., amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling. If prenatal screening becomes more widely available, as seems to be happening, then one would expect the number of terminations to increase.
The authors of this study have provided valuable baseline data that should help frame the discussion of the impact of prenatal diagnosis on future termination rates.
Whatever the statistical realities may be, the number of those who choose abortion after a prenatal diagnosis is far too high. It should be none. To paraphrase the recently deceased disabilities rights activist, Dr. Adrienne Asch, the only thing prenatal diagnosis can provide is a first impression of who a child will be. Making such a radical decision as to end the life of a child based upon a first impression is a most horrible and violent form of discrimination. It has no place in an American society that is committed to ending discrimination in any form and that has intensified that effort for persons with disabilities over the last 25 years since the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act in July 1990.