Mom of Disabled Child: Pre-Natal Genetic Testing Can Lead to More Abortions

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Feb 23, 2010   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Mom of Disabled Child: Pre-Natal Genetic Testing Can Lead to More Abortions

by Kristan Hawkins
February 23, 2010 Note: Kristan Hawkins is executive director of Students for Life of America and runs, a Web site devoted to raising awareness of rationing for children with special needs in the healthcare legislation.

On March 17, 2010, it will be exactly one year that my husband and I first learned that our infant son, Gunner, had cystic fibrosis (CF), a life-threatening genetic disorder.

When I look back on this year, it has been an exhausting, emotional roller coaster. One that has tested myself, my husband, and my family spiritually, emotionally, and financially. There are so many unknowns still as to how severe Gunner’s disease will be, how he will respond to treatments and if he will need that feeding tube in a couple months, and how my marriage will endure.

However, one thing is absolutely certain, I have the most beautiful, loving, and wondrous child. I couldn’t help but include a picture for you to see just how perfect he is.

As I have written before, I have become deeply involved with the current healthcare reform debate arguing that the system desired by the President and Democratic Congressional leaders will lead to rationing of care and slower development of potential life-saving treatments for children like Gunner. Recently my research into this issue has led me down another path: pre-natal genetic testing.

Doing a simple Google search you can find dozens of articles and medical journal reports discussing the use of pre-natal genetic testing and debating the morality of the issue. Ethicists and physicians perform cost-benefit analysis’ of expensive yet exhaustive pre-natal testing compared to bringing a child into the world who will have a challenging life and cost thousands in medical care.

One theme is apparent; unlike with cancer where we are “racing to a cure,” these scientists offer hope that we can eliminate diseases by terminating those with them. An AP article yesterday, on February 17th, headlined, “Testing curbs some genetic diseases.” Couldn’t the article title have been, “Testing snuffs out those with genetic diseases?"

I am not angry at the AP writer for the writing the story as I was excited for finally someone has admitted that genetic testing is killing little girls and boys like Gunner.

The writer quotes studies showing that in states where pre-natal genetic testing is offered abortion is often chosen for those babies diagnosed in utero with cystic fibrosis. In one California study, 94% of babies with the most severe form and 66% with the less severe form of cystic fibrosis were aborted.

Pre-natal genetic testing, while many of us are told it’s a way to help “prepare” families in cases of adverse diagnosis and help vanish suffering, is a tool, sometimes even propagated by the same types of people who condone eugenics, to eliminate those with disabilities in order to make a more perfect society.

Today, pre-natal genetic testing for cystic fibrosis is encouraged by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). They even published a brochure about it that I found in my OB-GYN’s examination room last week when I was there for my 31-week check-up for my 2nd son due in April, who I have not tested for the disease despite a 25% risk of cystic fibrosis.

Some would call this irresponsible because not testing my 2nd son, Bear, exposes him to a lifetime of pain and society to a burden of medical costs. However, I never had any doubt in my mind that I would not carry him to term, so why put him at risk for miscarriage with the procedure?

As Christians, what is our ethical duty in this debate? What should pastors and priests counsel the expecting mothers in their congregation?

Unfortunately, as a body, we do not all agree on the issue of abortion. Some pastors believe it is morally acceptable to kill a child in utero and as a result almost half of all women obtaining abortions in America call themselves Christian. It has been a failure in our churches and parishes to speak up about abortion and how it violates God’s will and scars women and families for decades to come.

I believe it is our duty to make sure all human beings, no matter what our age, 2 days to 90 years, are treated with dignity and as the precious creatures God has made in his likeness. Human suffering will never be eliminated and aborting a child with a disability does not eliminate suffering for that child but for the family. It is our own selfishness that has led us down this dangerous path because we don’t want to witness suffering or experience loss?

My point in writing to you today is to help highlight this often “side-issue” of pre-natal genetic testing, warn you of the harms it brings to society, and remind you that this issue isn’t simply about some test offered to women on a routine basis but one that literally snuffs out thousands of lives each year.

These lives have been created in God’s image, bring great joy to the their families, and who knows what to society, maybe even a cure.

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