Abortion and Down syndrome prenatal testing

deGraaf MA DSTwo developments in the Spring of 2016 have focused on abortion and Down syndrome prenatal testing. 

49% Reduction rate

In a paper published in the journal Genetics in Medicine, Dr. Skotko, Frank Buckley, and Gert de Graaf estimate how many babies with Down syndrome have been born annually in Massachusetts from 1900 to 2010 (the last year with available data) and how many selective terminations occurred each year. The graph above depicts this information.

The article should be read in full to appreciate the analysis conducted by the authors. But, the final take away is that in recent years, through prenatal testing and selective abortion, Massachusetts is experiencing a reduction rate of 49% of all live births of children with Down syndrome. The authors previous paper estimated the national reduction rate at only 30%. Therefore, for every baby with Down syndrome seen in Massachusetts, there was a pregnancy carrying a child with Down syndrome that was aborted. This is a halving of the total number of babies that otherwise would be born alive with Down syndrome due to prenatal testing and selective abortion.

One other thing of note to consider based on the article’s results: it is estimated that annually 94 babies with Down syndrome are born alive but that 126 are selectively aborted in Massachusetts. At first glance, it would seem that with 126 abortions, that is higher than the 94 births, and the 49% reduction rate doesn’t seem to add up. It does once it is factored in that about 28% of the pregnancies selectively aborted would have naturally miscarried if allowed to continue. That means annually in Massachusetts, there are 35 expectant mothers who receive a prenatal diagnosis and choose to abort their pregnancies which would have naturally miscarried if allowed to continue.

ACLU & Planned Parenthood claim Indiana selective abortion ban unconstitutional

In March, Indiana passed a law with the stated purpose of making it illegal in Indiana for a doctor to knowingly perform an abortion sought as a result of a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome. As part of the informed consent process for an abortion, the law requires that women be made aware of this prohibition. At this post, I analyzed the law and its relative merits and deficiencies to achieve its stated purpose.

Nevertheless, the law still drew the fire of the Americans for Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky (PPINK). I could not find the complaint available via an easily accessible link, but was able to obtain a copy of it.

In the complaint, the ACLU and PPINK allege the following regarding the ban on Down syndrome selective abortions:

ACLU Para 2

ACLU Para 36

ACLU Para 54

ACLU Para 56

The Complaint and the accompanying motion for a preliminary injunction are relatively succinct considering the complexity of constitutional arguments. Not until all of the parties have entered an appearance and motions and hearings are held will the substantive arguments be fully fleshed out. So, for now, the news is simply that the ACLU and PPINK are challenging the selective abortion ban.

But …

Even from what little has been shared here, I hope others raised a curious eyebrow while reading this:

PPINK has performed abortions for patients who have been referred to PPINK solely because genetic anomalies or potential genetic anomalies had been detected in the fetus and PPINK anticipates performing such abortions in the future.

The emphasized portions of the quoted section, I would hope, would cause all to be concerned and shake their heads.

PPINK’s admission that it has performed abortions based on a “maybe” of a prenatal screen result and further its admission that it anticipates it will do such abortions in the future is troubling.

Terminating a pregnancy based only on a “maybe,” on a screen result suggesting an elevated likelihood of Down syndrome, but one that could also be a “false positive,” is not in keeping with professional guidelines for prenatal testing, best practices, and basic ethics.

I’ll leave it at that. But that “judicial admission” of PPINK’s is very concerning.


  1. If terminating on a “maybe” would not be in keeping with basic ethics, is terminating on a positive in keeping with basic ethics? What’s the difference, ethically?

    • Mike–I’ll just leave it at what is agreed upon, even among those who hold as opposite of views as ardent pro-lifers and ardent eugenicists: if you’re going to terminate because your child has a particular condition, then you should not terminate without knowing for sure your child has that particular condition.

  2. I have an unplanned pregnancy. I m very tensed I cant tell to my family, i m so tensed. My friend has suggested me about a center called A Woman’s Haven, the team it seems help us in making an informed decision about abortion. I m planning to meet with them. I need some positive support in this time.

    • I am unfamiliar with A Woman’s Haven. If you have received a prenatal test result suggesting Down syndrome, there are several good local support organizations who are trained in counseling expectant mothers considering all options. I hope you get the support that you need.

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