Why It Is Imperative To Reject Prenatal Screening For Down Syndrome

/ Commentary

As a first-time mother, I was excited and nervous about pregnancy. I downloaded a pregnancy app and checked it nearly every day, I googled my first-trimester symptoms obsessively, and I took all the advice I could get.

“Are you going to get the genetic test?” a friend asked.

The genetic test to which my friend was referring is called a non-invasive prenatal test (NIPT). When a mom is pregnant, her baby’s DNA circulates in her blood system. Doctors can now draw a mother’s blood to screen for the markers of three trisomy disorders and can even tell the sex of the baby as early as 9 weeks gestation.

This test is different than amniocentesis, a process in which a baby’s DNA is extracted directly from the womb, a highly-invasive procedure which carries a risk of miscarriage.

I hadn’t thought about it much, and responded I wasn’t sure. The outcome of the test would not change the outcome of our pregnancy, I reasoned, since we would not abort.

“I got one just to know,” another friend suggested. “It wouldn’t have changed the outcome of our pregnancy either, but we got it just in case we needed to prepare.”

That seemed reasonable — even smart — so I discussed it with my husband and, since we had a family history of Trisomy 21 (or Down syndrome), we opted to take the test in case we needed to prepare. At my twelve-week checkup, my blood was drawn and a few days later we learned we had a baby girl with no likelihood of trisomy disorders.

About a year later, with our newborn baby rocking to sleep in my arms, I read with horror a CBS report about Iceland, “the country where Down syndrome is disappearing.” The report was controversial because, of course, Down syndrome is not so much disappearing from Iceland as people with Down syndrome are:

“Since prenatal screening tests were introduced in Iceland in the early 2000s, the vast majority of women — close to 100 percent — who received a positive test for Down syndrome terminated their pregnancy.”

This report sparked widespread controversy precisely because it exposed what the pro-life movement has been saying for years. The Charlotte Lozier Institute estimates because of NIPT, the Down syndrome population in the United States has been reduced by thirty percent.

Recognizing this for what it is — eugenics — legislators have been moving bills through state houses across the country aimed at protecting preborn babies diagnosed with Down syndrome. Ohio recently became the third state to prohibit abortions solely based on a Down syndrome diagnosis .

But there is much more for pro-life people to consider beyond merely legislating to restrict abortion in these cases. For instance, a recent article in Slate suggested “pro-information” laws for cases of Down syndrome may be worthy of more support from the pro-life crowd:

“For many people in the Down syndrome community, the problem is not that abortion is available. Rather, it’s that prospective parents are given such paltry, dour, and often inaccurate information at the point of diagnosis, whether that happens prenatally or at birth—information that should be available to anyone regardless of their abortion views.

‘Pro-information’ laws require doctors and genetic counselors to provide what advocates call a more ‘balanced’ portrait of the disability at the point of diagnosis. Some pro-information advocates believe that if they could just give prospective parents a true picture of life with a Down syndrome child, more women would choose to go forward with their pregnancies.”

Additionally, mothers who consider themselves pro-life would do well to think before undergoing NIPT absent a medically-necessary reason. My friend who wanted to be prepared to welcome a child into the world with a trisomy disorder had a very natural, reasonable approach to NIPT. However, it is important to remember that NIPT only tests for markers of genetic conditions. Diagnostic testing such as amniocentesis is required for an accurate prenatal diagnosis.

Perhaps the most critical reason pro-life individuals ought to consider foregoing these tests if they are not medically-necessary is the lab companies producing these tests likely support abortion — if not with their votes, then with their wallets, as they benefit from fetal tissue research.

For instance, the lab company which performed our NIPT was Quest Diagnostics, which has a relationship with StemExpress. And, as has been exposed by the Center for Medical Progress, StemExpress had a relationship with Planned Parenthood to harvest fetal body parts. Out of pocket (that is, without insurance), our NIPT cost nearly $4,000. That is a lot of money to a company which does not necessarily value life the same way I do.

If we are going to avoid businesses with relationships to abortion providers, pro-lifers should consider having the same approach to our medical care. This issue is not going to get less complicated as time goes on. In fact, it is more likely as science continues advancing, prenatal testing will raise all sorts of ethical questions which the pro-life movement must be prepared to face.

Discerning consumers can find pro-life doctors to help them navigate the increasingly complicated world of prenatal care. It is possible to not only “talk the talk,” but also “walk the walk.”

Twenty-four weeks ago I found out I was pregnant again. At my twelve-week checkup, my doctor asked me if I wanted a prenatal test. I thought about the CBS story out of Iceland and shook my head — “No thanks,” I replied.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Human Defense Initiative.

Katherine Mayne Wheeler

Katherine Mayne Wheeler

Katherine Wheeler is a wife and mom living in the Twin Cities area. She worked for Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA). Her policy expertise is health and entitlements.

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