"It's a girl!"

I received these words with tears of joy when our third child, Marilee, was born. We could have known her sex months earlier, of course, but we decided to wait. And yet, as I wrote in a recent Her.meneutics post, other cultures are far less willing to receive girls with joy. In both India and China, many people receive the prenatal information that they are having a girl as cause to terminate a pregnancy.

Prenatal information always comes within the context of a larger cultural narrative. We express our dismay over the "gendercide" halfway across the globe, yet prenatal testing in the United States also comes within a cultural context. Here, prenatal testing focuses upon identifying "fetal abnormalities." Information about such abnormalities occasionally help a baby survive through surgical intervention in utero or due to additional medical support at birth. Information can also help parents receive a child with physical or cognitive delays. But the same information is often used as the reason for having an abortion, particularly when tests identify the presence of an extra 21st chromosome, more commonly known as Down syndrome.

In recent months, researchers have found a way to conclusively identify Down syndrome using a blood test in the ninth week of pregnancy. Although the test remains prohibitively expensive, it should be widely available in the next year. Current screening tests begin as early as 11 or 12 weeks, but the only definitive way to identify a fetus with Down syndrome is via chorionic villus sampling (CVS) in the 11th week, or amniocentesis around the 18th week of pregnancy. Both of these procedures carry with them a risk of miscarriage. The new test is noninvasive, providing close-to-definitive ...

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