Abortion, in the news

Image of a nuchal translucency test.

Image of a nuchal translucency test.

Abortion is inextricably intertwined with prenatal testing for Down syndrome and remains the option most women choose following a prenatal test result. As such, here are some items about abortion offered pursuant to the purpose of this blog: providing information for those involved in prenatal testing for Down syndrome.

Amy Julia Becker’scolumn featured in a previous post cited a column in TIME magazine about a study on the effects of viewing an ultrasound on expectant mothers’ decisions to abort. The TIME piece featured the following points:

In one of the largest studies on the topic to date, researchers analyzed 15,575 medical records from an abortion care provider in Los Angeles. Each patient was asked about her choice for an abortion and answers were divided into high, medium and low decision certainty about the procedure, with only 7.4 percent of women falling in the latter two categories. All patients underwent an ultrasound, and 42.5 percent of them opted to see images. Of those who saw the pictures, 98.4 percent went on to terminate the pregnancies.

Here’s the most important part, as highlighted in Slate: the 1.6 percent women who viewed the sonograms and decided to carry their pregnancy to term all had medium or low certainty about the procedure when interviewed before the ultrasound.

In short: Women who were certain about having an abortion before coming to the clinic did not change their minds because of the sonogram; but some of the women who were uncertain about the procedure to begin with were dissuaded by the sonogram picture.

With my interest piqued, I accessed the full article (which requires a subscription). Some bracketing information not included in TIME’s summary:

  • The researchers included representatives from Planned Parenthood of Los Angeles, the provider of the abortion services, which they disclosed in the full article, and though disclosed, demonstrates a clear interest in favor of not requiring additional steps to having an abortion.
  • The study was limited to Los Angeles, where nearly half of the patients were Hispanic, and 77.5% were at or below the federal poverty level. While the study may be representative of this particular population, as providers from other parts of the country are quick to inform me, their patients do not terminate at the rates found in other areas of the country.
  • Another factor noted was that the later the gestation, the more likely a woman was to continue her pregnancy, with “women at 17-19 weeks of gestation  … almost 20 times as likely to continue the pregnancy compared with women at less than 9 weeks of gestation.” For most women undergoing prenatal testing, results will not be available until after the 10th week for a screen, and after the 13th week for the earliest diagnostic test, with most having an amnio, returning results closer to the 17-19 weeks of gestation.
  • The number who continued their pregnancies may in fact be a much higher number than that quoted in the report. This is because while the report found that only 7.4% of the study sample expressed decision uncertainty, there was another 7.2% missing decision certainty data. The authors note that this missing information “was associated with a greater likelihood of continuing pregnancy”.

From this study, then, as applied to prenatal testing for Down syndrome, for most expectant mothers, they will have already viewed at least one ultrasound, either in the first trimester scan or in the ultrasound used to guide the needle in the invasive  diagnostic testing. For the majority, they will receive results closer to the 17-19 weeks of gestation, when most women continue. And, many women receiving a positive test result remain ambivalent about whether they will continue or terminate their pregnancies.

So, while 90+% of the clientele of the Los Angeles Planned Parenthood clinics might proceed with abortion after viewing an ultrasound, that high of a percentage is unlikely to hold true given so many factors identified in that same study that suggested viewing an ultrasound may result in a mother with decision uncertainty continuing her pregnancy.

Two other reports on abortion:

  • Professor Robert P. George shared the following video of a 20-week abortion being performed. I have not reviewed it, myself, given Prof. George’s cautionary introduction, which I copy below in full. But, I share the link for those who so choose to see it for themselves:

Friends, I am sharing this with great reluctance. It is a video of an abortionist performing an abortion by which the life of an unborn child is taken at 20 weeks. PLEASE do not watch this if you are not prepared to see something truly horrible. It is made even more shocking by the mild-mannered, almost avuncular, tone of the abortionist’s running commentary. He obviously sincerely believes that there is nothing wrong with killing and dismembering the developing child, and that he is merely “helping this young woman get on with her life.” It is utterly chilling. From 2:30 to 2:45, as he explains that he is “reassembling the fetal tissue,” you see what is really going on here. Again, PLEASE DO NOT WATCH THIS UNLESS YOU ARE EMOTIONALLY PREPARED FOR IT. I am sharing it for those who are prepared so that you can see with your own eyes what the abortion power means by “fetal tissue” and other euphemisms. Bear in mind, by the way, that this is not a video created by the pro-life movement. It is a video done by the abortionist to show the interested public how he does his work—work that he is proud of doing. God help us.

  • Finally, Slate featured this column by a medical student who explains her reasons behind her abortion of her son, who showed life-limiting, and possibly terminal, organ malformation in utero. Her candor in describing this heart-wrenching experience is valuable in understanding the thought process that goes into deciding to end a pregnancy:

Opponents of abortion may argue that terminating my pregnancy violated our baby’s human rights and that if anything, we should have continued the pregnancy and opted for palliative care at birth. The more surprising and hurtful responses, however, have been from people like my staunchly pro-choice friend who told me that she was jarred by my use of the word son to describe our fetus, as though the moral basis for abortion depends on denying the fetus any semblance of humanity, no matter how close it is to the point of viability, no matter how the woman herself chooses to define her relationship to the fetus. I’m not sure I explicitly thought of our fetus as our son until the day of that ultrasound, but after entering a situation in which we had to consider medical decisions that included imagining our long-shot, best-case scenario as trying to get our little boy through a year or two of preschool before getting a kidney transplant and starting on lifelong immunosuppressive drug therapy, there was no way to think of him otherwise.

* * *

In our case, abortion was a parenting decision—the most important and powerful one I have yet to make. This might not be comfortable or convenient for the pro-choice narrative, but it’s the truth.

The Slate columnist’s experience is reflective of the experience of mothers who have terminated their pregnancies after a positive test for Down syndrome, as reported in a few journal articles. These women consider themselves mothers and their fetuses their children. Yet, they choose to end their child’s life out of sense of humaneness, of sparing their child the suffering they expect their child to endure should he or she be born into this world.

Abortion is part of the prenatal testing experience and, hopefully, this information will prove useful for those who are considering terminating a pregnancy following a prenatal test result for Down syndrome.

UPDATE: A commercial aired during Superbowl 50 featured an ultrasound appointment that sparked an on-line reaction by abortion advocate group NARAL and a countering responses by abortion foes, including one by Prof. George. This post has been updated and shared in light of this recent discussion about ultrasounds and abortions.


  1. Thanks for sharing Mark. It is indeed a hard subject, but one our community deals with on an almost daily (information sharing) basis. I could not bring myself to watch the video, but would not expect the abortionist to think anything other than what you described-it is his chosen line of work. We are getting more and more prenatally dx’d parents inquiring. The best we can do for now, is share the prenatal resources and information, partner with parents who have been there, and pray they see the value in their child’s life.

    • Thank you, Karen, for your response. I have been meaning to ask local groups about their 2013 birth numbers and how many families they supported prenatally. Your comment will prompt me to write up that post.

  2. Mark,

    Thanks so much–as always–for your even-handed, fair-minded, and thorough investigation of these issues. I will share this post and refer back to the various pieces you mention within it.

    Amy Julia

  3. Mark, thanks for addressing this issue. The only way we will ever move forward in this debate is for those “corners” to disappear, and for people to speak together reasonably about the outcomes of the decision to terminate. All one has to do is go to the “Termination after Medical Diagnosis” discussion board at BabyCenter.com to know the lasting emotional damage the decision to abort causes. It is heartbreaking to read their comments that are so clearly shaped by poor information provided by healthcare workers and family members. In deciding to terminate to save one’s child from a lifetime of suffering, one has also chosen to deprive them and their families of a lifetime of love and joy.

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