Early prenatal tests for rare disorders often lead to thoughts about abortion for expecting parents.
Sometimes, doctors and genetic counselors pressure parents to abort their unborn babies after a positive test, and both healthy and unhealthy unborn babies are killed in abortions as a result.
Now, a new analysis by the New York Times has found that some of the most common prenatal screening tests are not as reliable as parents often are led to believe and many healthy unborn babies may be being aborted as a result of false positives.
Examining five non-invasive prenatal tests, which involve drawing blood in the first trimester, the Times found an average false positive rate of 85 percent.
To conduct its research, the newspaper examined multiple studies and interviewed researchers about five of the most common microdeletion (chromosomal disorder) tests performed on pregnant mothers: tests for DiGeorge syndrome, 1p36 deletion, Cri-du-chat syndrome, Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome, Prader-Willi and Angelman syndromes.
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According to the report, experts said early prenatal tests for Patau syndrome (trisomy 13) and Turner syndrome (monosomy X) also have a lot of false positives, but tests for Down syndrome and Edwards syndrome are more reliable.
One of the problems with the high inaccuracy rates in the tests is that “there are hundreds of microdeletion syndromes, and the most expansive tests look for between five and seven,” according to the Times. This means that not only are the false positives a problem, but the results also are not proof that the baby does not have the disorder.
Despite the lack of certainty, the tests are marketed as “reliable” and “accurate,” the report found. The test companies do recommend follow-up testing to confirm the results, but parents do not always do this. More accurate tests come with a risk of miscarriage and can be expensive, so some parents go on the early, unreliable results alone to make a decision about their unborn baby’s life.
One geneticist told the Times about a recent case where an early prenatal test came back positive for a rare disorder, so the parents aborted their unborn baby. Later, however, a follow-up test after the abortion showed that the unborn baby had been healthy, the geneticist said.
The report continues: “A 2014 study found that 6 percent of patients who screened positive obtained an abortion without getting another test to confirm the result. That same year The Boston Globe quoted a doctor describing three terminations following unconfirmed positive results.”
The expanded use of prenatal testing has led to more unborn babies with disabilities being targeted for abortions. Recent reports in The Atlantic and CBS News found that nearly 100 percent of unborn babies who test positive for Down syndrome are aborted in Iceland, 95 percent in Denmark, 77 percent in France and 67 percent in the United States.
The deadly discrimination is getting worse with the expanded use of prenatal testing. The Telegraph reports a recent article in the European Journal of Human Genetics found that the number of babies with Down syndrome born in the United Kingdom dropped 54 percent since the non-invasive prenatal screening tests became available about a decade ago.
What’s more, parents frequently report feeling pressured to abort unborn babies with disabilities. One mom recently told the BBC that she was pressured to abort her unborn daughter 15 times, including right up to the moment of her baby’s birth. Another mother from Brooklyn, New York said doctors tried to convince her to abort her unborn son for weeks before they took no for an answer. Many say they did not receive adequate counseling about the disorder or the support available to families of children with disabilities.