Should Christians Pursue Prenatal Testing?
In light of the relationship between prenatal testing and selective abortion, many pro-life women decide to forgo the tests altogether. As I have written elsewhere, after our first daughter was born and diagnosed with Down syndrome, I chose fewer and fewer prenatal tests with my subsequent two pregnancies even though I had a higher chance of giving birth to a child with Down syndrome. I believed that fetal ultrasounds would offer any medical information we might need to prepare for my children's births.
It is not irresponsible to decline prenatal genetic testing. As Dr. John Thorpe, director of women's healthcare at the University of North Carolina, wrote to me in a personal correspondence surrounding these questions, "Contemporary ultrasound exams should identify almost all birth defects that would need urgent or emergent intervention in the first days after a baby's birth. Thus invasive tests are not needed to improve the outcome of a pregnancy nor to direct mothers whose babies might require intensive care to perinatal centers. A normal ultrasound should suffice to forego those concerns."
The vast majority of women who receive a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome and other chromosomal conditions do choose to abort, but the percentage of women choosing abortion in this scenario seems to have decreased in recent years. Studies are few and far between in providing this type of information, and yet Jamie Natali and other researchers writing for the Journal of Prenatal Diagnosis have concluded that about 70 percent of women with a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome choose abortion. Older studies had suggested an 85-90 percent abortion rate.
Still, women also use these tests for purposes other than selective abortion. Prenatal testing can be a means of prenatal care, in which the diagnosis of a chromosomal condition offers time for both the mother and a wider circle of friends and family to prepare to welcome a baby into the world. A prenatal diagnosis might lead to the decision to give birth in a different hospital or with more doctors present in case complications arise upon delivery. A prenatal diagnosis also offers women time to learn about the chromosomal condition both medically and culturally, to find support groups, and to take practical measures to be prepared with health insurance and early intervention services. Furthermore, many women who receive a prenatal or postnatal diagnosis experience a time of grief for the child they thought they were going to have. Experiencing this grief prenatally can allow a greater sense of celebration when the child is born.
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