by Steven Ertelt
January 2, 2007
Washington, DC (LifeNews.com) — A leading national doctors’ group is suggesting that every pregnant woman, regardless of age, be offered the chance to have prenatal testing for the birth defect known as Down syndrome. However, tests showing disabilities in unborn children may prompt more abortions.
This week, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is recommending more testing saying that less invasive tests than the standard amniocentesis are now available.
Some tests can determine as early as the first trimester of pregnancy whether a baby has Down syndrome.
The group published a new set of guidelines in the January edition of the medical journal Obstetrics & Gynecology and says that more frequent testing would give some mothers and parents peace of mind while allowing others to get earlier medical help for their unborn child.
Down syndrome is a lifelong condition in which a person is born with distinct physical features, such as a flat face and short neck, and some degree of cognitive disability. It affects one in 800 babies and parents who determine their unborn child has Down syndrome frequently have abortions.
That concerns the President’s Council on Bioethics, which called the information gleaned from such prenatal tests "toxic knowledge" because such a high percentage of pregnancies involving disabled babies end in abortion.
Dr. William Hurlbut, a biology professor at Stanford University, called such information "learning more than you want to or more than you can handle."
Hurlbut added that parents who find out their unborn children have a physical or mental disability can develop depression and psychiatric disorders. Some parents even consider suicide, he told the Catholic News Service at the time.
He also said that prenatal testing paves the way for genetic thinking where people began trying to eliminate less than desirable traits in their family.
"It’s the flavor-of-the-month preference for what people can look like," he said.
Down syndrome is caused by abnormal cell division very early in fetal development. This abnormal division produces an extra or irregular chromosome in some or all of the body’s cells.
Mothers who get pregnant at an older age have a higher percentage chance of having a baby with Down syndrome.
ACOG is recommending that all pregnant women have a "nuchal translucency test" which combines blood tests showing risk factors with an ultrasound examination. The test can be done from weeks 11 to 13 of a pregnancy and can give a numeric chance of having a baby with the condition.
Abortions on babies with Down syndrome have been an issue in England as well.
Most British doctors who are treating pregnant women with unborn children diagnosed with Down syndrome are telling their patients to have abortions. Official figures show as many as 94 percent of women with babies with Down syndrome are having abortions.
The statistics show the number of abortions is also on the rise as more than 900 babies were aborted in 2004 while just 293 were killed before birth in 1989.
Women are also being told more frequently to have late-term abortions after the 24 week legal limit for most other abortions in Britain and 11 women had late-term abortions of Down syndrome babies last year alone.
But not Lisa Green.
Green’s obstetrician informed her that her child would grow up to be "mentally retarded," she told the London Daily Mail newspaper. But the 35 year-old rejected her doctor’s advice to have an abortion at 35 weeks into the pregnancy.
Two weeks after the suggestion she have an abortion, she gave birth to a baby boy she named Harrison. He is now a much-loved son and the Daily Mail reports the two year-old just started nursery school.
Green described to the London newspaper what happened when she and her 33 year-old fireman husband Tim were given the news.
"The doctor said, "I have some bad news — your baby has Down syndrome,’" she said. "We were both in total shock but this was considerably worsened when he said, "You can have a termination.’"
"My baby was fully-formed and his name was decided. I was appalled," she told the Daily Mail.
Green accused the doctor of pressuring her to have an abortion by telling her only negative things about having a mentally handicapped baby.
"The doctor urged us to think about the termination and how having a baby with "mental retardation" would affect our lives," she said. "He listed only the potential negatives about Down syndrome, without giving us any information to read for a more balanced view."
"The midwife tried to interject and offer us some leaflets but he talked her down. The frightening thing is, had we been told by the same doctor about Down syndrome earlier in the pregnancy, there is a chance we might have decided to abort," she said.
Still, Green has no regrets about her decision to keep Harrison.
"We don’t know what we’d do without Harrison – he’s so adored," she said.