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We Are Not a Pro-Life Nation

I've seen many polls that conclude that America is a "pro-life" nation. And that the number of self-identified pro-lifers is growing. I've even felt myself growing hopeful about the immediate future because of those poll numbers.

But after reading a story today I'm not sure I believe it.

UPI reports:

The number of babies with Down syndrome carried to term in the United States has declined to single digit percentages, officials say.

Approximately 92 percent of American women with prenatal diagnoses of Down syndrome babies chose abortion, Children's Hospital Boston pediatric geneticist Dr. Brian Skotko said.

Skotko is concerned whether myths or facts drive the decisions, ABC News reports. "I am concerned about mothers making that informed decision. Are they making it on facts and up-to-date information? Research suggests not, and that mothers get inaccurate, incomplete and sometimes offensive information," Skotko said.
Firstly, 92% is a heartbreaking number. Staggering.

Now, you can't argue reasonably that mothers with babies diagnosed in-utero with Down Syndrome is a completely random sample because mothers of Down Syndrome children tend to be over 30 and usually closer to 40 or older. But even allowing that it's just a slice of the population, it's still awful. In fact, awful doesn't begin to describe it.

But there's no reason to think that younger mothers would do better in that younger women tend to get more abortions than older women. So how do we reconcile polling which indicates that 50% of the country self identifies as pro-life while only 8% of babies diagnosed with Down Syndrome are allowed to be born?

Now, you could have a number of people who know that aborting their child is wrong but the threat of a Down child is too much to bear and they have an abortion even though they know it's wrong and still believe it should be illegal. But that's almost worse than just thinking abortion is a morally neutral act. No matter what, it's certainly not indicative of a pro-life nation.

I think sometimes when it comes to abortion I become very focused on changing the laws. But I think we have a lot of hearts to change in this country or changing the laws won't really matter all that much.

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Rachel B said...


Al said...

A year ago it was 80-90%. This is not good.

You are right about 1 thing, it is both hearts & laws that have to be changed.

Theresa said...

It is awful, but I'm sure many women who wouldn't abort simply don't get the testing that would diagnose Down's Syndrome before birth. I wonder if there are stats on how many women decline the testing, and on the total percentage of babies with Down's Syndrome who are aborted.

Paul H said...

My wife and I declined the pre-natal test for Down Syndrome for our kids, because our understanding was that the only reason for doing such a test would be so that one could then choose abortion if the test were positive. Since we are pro-life, we were offended by the idea of even doing the test.

So even if one of our children had had Down Syndrome, my wife never could have factored at all into the statistic of "American women with prenatal diagnoses of Down syndrome babies." So it's possible that the statistic is skewed to some extent (maybe a lot, maybe a little) by pro-lifers who intentionally avoid the pre-natal diagnosis in the first place.

Anita said...

My husband and I have refused all pre-natal testing for all of our children. Three of them were born when I was over 30. SO add me as another who would not factor into those statistics... I'm 38 now and we would both still refuse testing as would (and have) all of my pro-life 30+ friends. To us (and we've discussed this a LOT) the only purpose a prenatal diagnosis would serve would be to give us ample time for an early abortion... Which is NOT an option - so no testing.

Anonymous said...

I am a physician (general internist & pediatrician) who has witnessed first-hand the casual knee-jerk medical "advice" given to abort a child for either real or potential birth defects and "for the health of the mother". As many pro-life couples have found out, "standard of care" to offer (strongly suggest? verbally coerce?) abortion to parents of children with not just Down's Syndrome, but spina bifida, Trisomy 18 or 13, and even cleft palate. As if the mere fact of this tragedy was not enough, the cool, numb scientific guise this advice is rendered makes one shudder.

That said, the one compelling reason to have prenatal testing, especially for a couple at risk for Down's, is to be prepared for a number of birth malformations that can present fairly quickly after birth. Advance knowledge of defects such as congenital heart disease and underdevelopment of the gut can literally be life-saving for these little ones. Keep in mind that these defects present in only a minority of Down's babies -- the majority will have no perinatal problems.

Of course, this is all at the discretion of the couple and their obstetrician -- should screening be opted-out, I would hope at least the attending obstetrician (and pediatrician, if present) would be especially attuned to any signs of Down's or other birth malformations at delivery. Plus, a customary high-level 20-week ultrasound (with or without AFP testing or amniocentesis) could demonstrate some of these defects, especially in the heart.

As for the disconnect between the "pro-life" appellation and the rate of elective abortions of Down's children -- until people change their hearts about "prevention" of unwanted pregnancy which makes contraception a necessary entity, we will always have the scourge of abortion as the ultimate "prevention" -- abortion is the logical conclusion of a contraceptive mentality. Contraception and abortion are merely two points of a continuum that screams NON SERVIAM to God and our human nature.

I am willing to bet that the vast majority of the couples who aborted their Down's babies actively practiced contraception and had no qualms about it, and that a significant percentage less (not miniscule as hoped, as contaception is so pervasive in our society) did so in the cases that saw their pregnancies to term...

KC said...

This is one of the reasons why I fear all the research to find the "autism gene". This is what will happen once they do.

Very, very sad.

Rick said...
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Rick said...
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Rick said...

Just because one cannot legislate virtue does not mean that vice should be legalized either.

Sarah L said...

I declined the same tests for all three of my babies. I wanted the ultrasound, but that was it. That said, I can see why some mothers would want to know ahead of time just to be prepared (mentally and emotionally) if those tests reveal certain health problems that will need to be addressed shortly after birth. It's disheartening to see so many women who opt for the tests choose to abort a child because of a strong likelihood of Down Syndrome. These babies are every bit as precious to God, and I think God works miracles in families blessed by these little ones. To deliberately reject them because of the perception that they represent an unacceptable burden--not only on the family but on the planet as well, according to some whack-jobs--is inhuman and revolting. And heart-breaking.

S. Federoff said...

I am about to have my 10th (!) child at 41. And I WOULD NOT refuse SOME of the prenatal testing for precisely the reason the anonymous MD above gives- I want things ready in the delivery room if the child needs special attention or equipment. The pre-natal tests themselves are neutral... like any tool.... its all a matter of what the information is used for.

That being said, I know there are many doctors out there who do not share my view on the sanctity of life, and would use the test results to bully a couple of less conviction into aborting.

Anonymous said...

My neighbor bought into the whole "we need to know ahead of time." When their precious son was born she realized nothing could prepare them for caring for their Down Syndrome child. She looks at all the testing as a waste of her time and energy and realized that it completely changed her ability just to enjoy her pregancy for the miracle it was.

He's a marvolous child and loved by all!


Paul Zummo said...

I think many of the commenters hit upon a significant point - pro-lifers probably don't even bother with the pre-natal screening. My wife and I did not bother, for all of the reasons given above. That being said, that is a disturbing and disgusting statistic.

To this day my mother still talks about the heartless physicians who upbraided her when she told him she was pregant with me (she was 39 at the time). She left the office in tears when he scolded her about the perils of bringing a baby with Down Syndrome into the world - a pretty ignoarnt thing to do on multiple levels, as my mother already had four kids, thus her chances of delivering a baby with Downs were lower than if I were her first.

One last thing: I am somewhat heartened by the number of children and babies in my local parish that have Downs Syndrome. What I mean by that is that it gives me a good feeling about fellow Catholics who take their faith seriously.

Rocio said...

My mother was a 38-yr-old woman with chronic rheumatoid arthritis when she became pregnant with me. She had been on various medications up to the point of my conception and beyond. After the shock of finding out she was going to have another child after so long a time, she was completely distraught at the callous words of her, then, physician. In the most monotone of voices, he came into the room, bringing with him these words: "Mrs. CastaƱeda, the results of your tests are back. We have found that the level of protein in your urine to be very high, which is almost always a sure sign of down-syndrome. Would you like to have an abortion?"
It's a rather interesting story to hear on my part. My mother is a woman of great faith. She's not always been a 'serious' Catholic - for whatever those words are worth - but she's always seemed to greatly differentiate between the good and evil of the world. Every time she tells of the day she was non-nonchalantly asked to have an abortion, as if she were choosing between red and pink nail-polish at the neighborhood salon, she gets tears in her eyes.
I've asked her many times before, because I love to hear her answer:
"Did you ever consider an abortion?"
"NO!!!", she says.
"Did you ever ask my father for his opinion on the subject?"(My father is pro-choice.)
"I don't care what his opinion was. I was not having an abortion."
She spent the next few months crying, praying, in great pain without medication, only to receive the news, "Congratulations Mrs. CastaƱeda. You've given birth to a healthy ten-pound, two-ounce baby girl without down syndrome."
I am aware times have changed since 1988 and testing tends to be far more thorough and accurate. This is very true. But, on the flip-side, I am of the opinion there is always room for hope, given the occurred, even if there is solid, scientific proof.
I pray for all the mothers who, like my own mother, may have been badly misguided, misunderstood, taken advantage of, consequently deciding to terminate their pregnancies. But, more than anything, I thank God for the women who have chosen to let their child live, despite the circumstances, whether their child was born one of down syndrome or an average (slightly over-weight :), healthy baby.

Sherrytex said...

As a mother with a child with Down Syndrome, I can attest that I was given many "opportunities" to "consider" my "options."

My son had a congenital heart defect. "You know, statistically, you probably won't have another child with Down Syndrome if you wanted to have other children." the genetic counsellor said out of the blue. I hadn't expressed a worry about future children.

"You have a decision to make." she said to me after the amniocentesis came back Downs. "You know you have many normal children already."

The final straw was "She kept calling him a fetus after I said "We're keeping the baby. His name is Paul." She kept just "checking in" in case I wanted to talk.

Foxfier, formerly Sailorette said...

I went to a crisis pregnancy center to have my pregnancy confirmed _precisely because_ I wanted to avoid doctors who would pressure us to get Down's testing, or to abort if there was any irregularity. (iChoice-- good people!)

My sister's boy was born with club feet, so the possibility of there being "something" was high.

There's this, too-- a large number of doctors self-reported that "they 'emphasize' the negative aspects of DS so that patients would favor a termination."

So you take a woman who might be pro-life, just not very knowledgeable about it, whose hormones are in turmoil, who just got a huge blow-- "your baby will have major health problems" is a pretty dang big blow-- and add in a pro-abort doctor who paints it all in the worst possible light and, as Sherrytex points out, actively try to dehumanize the kid....

Yeah, I can see how only a few small percent of those who get tested would be those who only want to know so they can prepare.

Rob Skrobola said...

Any doctor that would talk to my wife about this would get my fist upside his face. Medical school doesn't give you the right to threaten my wife and child with sadistic violence, and I would act accordingly.

Rob - Father of four

Mary in CO said...

Good point, Matthew: our greatest effort must still be to prayer for conversions of heart toward protection of life at all stages. Do that, and the abortion and euthanasia rates will drop; and eventually, changes in laws will follow.

Thanks to the commenters for showing the other side of this sad statistic. The number is scary, but it's just that: a number that can be used or mis-used to support any position.

And whether or not you took the prenatal testing, God bless y'all for accepting the gift of life!

Anonymous said...

www.prenatalpartnersforlife and www.benotafraid.net are good supports for someone who has received an adverse prenatal diagnosis. I am one of the moms who has shared a story there.

Mike in CT said...

My mom was 38 and diabetic when she became pregnant with me in 1979. Nurses and even some of the doctors suggested she abort me just on the possibility that I might have Down's Syndrome. And this was at a Catholic hospital! Thankfully, that was never an option for my parents (though she did get talked into getting her tubes tied as a "precaution.")

Anita said...

Since at least one physician reads here... I hope that he/she will correct me if I'm wrong... But I seem to recall from the brochure we received explaining prenatal screening that there is a high risk of false positives with amnio testing.

Foxfier, formerly Sailorette said...

I'm no doctor, but from this UK site.

The screening itself has between .5 and 1% chance of causing a miscarriage.

In those who are advised to have a screening done, those with a risk of more than one in 50 have a 48% detection rate and a 2.7% false positive.
Those with a risk of over one in 250 have a 58% detection rate, and a 5.2% false positive.
Those with a risk of over one in 250 have a 65% detection rate and 7.6 false positive.

The text below the chart on my linked page confuses the issue quite a bit, though-- it seems to be saying a false positive is a test that didn't need to be done, rather than an inaccurate result.

An older but possibly better source here cites a 5 to 8% false positive, with a 35-40% false negative.

Kathy - Chicago said...

I have 6 children. 5 from age 37 on (!). I always declined prenatal testing except for a level 2 (3?) ultrasound. As part of the ultrasound, the dr would look for soft markers for downs. If we had had any soft markers for downs syndrome, I would have pursued further testing so that, if needed, we & the medical team could be ready for any challenges.

I never worried about "problems" with my babies, but plenty of people around me did. I was often asked if I was concerned about . . . ahem . . . "health problems" - code for downs.

Sherrytex said...

I would not dissuade people from getting the tests. They were important as part of preparing for my son's birth and anticipating and putting together a team to address his health needs.

I didn't get amnio with the first 8. It was only when the ultrasound showed a defect in the heart and the soft marker of a thickened nucleal fold on his neck that I agreed to further testing.

Knowledge could prepare one for how to cope with low tone, what to expect with respect to mile markers, higher probability of respiratory infection (lungs not strong enough to cough it all out), but what the books and DVD's and even a Masters in Special Education could not do, is prepare me for the great joy he brings with every smile, with every discovery, with every day.

Anonymous said...

This is indeed tragic... I had the privilege in working and living as a full-time assistant in a group home where many people had Down's. They were absolutely delightful, and they became part of my family. I was 21 - 22 at the time, and met my husband while I was living there. (The place is called L'Arche Harbor House in Jacksonville, FL) These delightful people came to our wedding, and you haven't partied until you invite a group of smiling people with Down's onto the dance floor: A memory that will stay with me forever... And so I am passionate about the value and life people with Down's bring to our society. My life would have been missing something major if not for these people during a particularly crucial time in my spiritual walk when I had recently converted. Their simplicity helped me to heal from past experiences and to turn to God. (This story is slowly unfolding on my site LifeVictorious.com)

My second point is that many times Down's and other disabilities are misdiagnosed. I know of countless stories to this effect. How tragic that many abortions are inflicted on many healthy babies because of the fear of the parents and pressures of the medical system. It is tragic that abortions happen to anyone... but I thought I would mention this factor as well...

Thought and prayers with CMR as you continue sharing the truth...


Janelle said...

As a mom of a ds child this is heart breaking, but I should point out that most of the 8% born are to moms under 30 as they usually waive testing that would have otherwise picked it up. I was 21 when I had my ds daughter and she is a joy. What a sad world we live in :(

Leticia said...

Janelle, as another mom of a child with Down syndrome, I agree, this IS heartbreaking, in fact it's the reason I became a blogger, to alert toe world to this tragedy. Thank you Matthew for this important post. Archbishop Chaput addressed this issue on his First Things blog.
But to me the saddest point is that, despite Dr Skotko's excellent research there is a paper just released by leading Ds 'advocacy' orgnizations NDSS, NDSC, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynocologists, and Genetic Counseling orgs DENYING this very statistic.


That is why my friend Eileen and I began KIDS Keep Infants with Down Syndrome to raise awareness of this tragedy.Last year we joined the March for Life and met with pro-life Congressmen to garner their support.
Join us on Facebook or on our blog, and tell the world that our children are gifts from God.

Anonymous said...

I was told the chance of miscarriage from the amnio was 1 in 1600.

Foxfier, formerly Sailorette said...

Huh, I see my link didn't work, for some reason....

Down syndrome can be diagnosed early in pregnancy (at about 15 to 16 weeks) by amniocentesis. This involves a very fine needle being passed into the womb, under guidance by ultrasound, and sampling of the (amniotic) fluid around the baby. It is done under local anaesthetic, and most women don't find it too uncomfortable. There is a risk, however, of about 1 in 100 to 200 of a spontaneous miscarriage after the procedure.

Lynne said...

I was 36 when I became pregnant with my daughter. I too refused the amnio because 1. I wouldn't have an abortion no matter the results were and 2. the risk for a miscarriage was unacceptable.

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to clear a couple of things up.

It can be confusing, but the false positive rate that you were wondering about would be for screening tests (things like a blood test and/or ultrasound where they measure the nuchal translucency - the thickness of fluid at the back of a baby's neck). This would be about 5-8%, meaning that 5-8% of women who take the screening test will "screen positive" for Down syndrome but their babies will not have Down syndrome. "Screen positive" is very different from "testing positive". Screening means you have a higher chance, for example 1 in 20 chance of having a baby with Down Syndrome, but this also would mean you would have a 19 in 20 chance the baby does not have Down syndrome.

As for amniocentesis, this test gives definitive Yes or No answers, does the baby have Down syndrome. A needle takes a sample of the fluid surrounding the baby, which contains cells that have come off the baby. This does not hurt the baby. Those cells are examined under a microscope and a scientist looks and the chromosomes and checks if there is an extra copy of chromosome #21. If there is, then the baby has Down syndrome. This test wouldn't give a false positive.

Anonymous said...

Also the risk for miscarriage with amniocentesis ranges between 1/300-1/900 depending on how experienced of a center is performing the procedure.

Usually anesthetic is not used. The procedure may cause some cramping.

Some couples find knowing definitively allows them to prepare and in case of a heart problem specialized medical care can be ready at the birth of the baby, if it were necessary.

Foxfier, formerly Sailorette said...

Anon, could you please offer a source for your information?

There's just too many folks who will say black is white to *mess* with folks, so it's really most effective to offer a third party uninvolved site.....

Anonymous said...

Here are some sources, from Toronto's Mt. Sinai Hospital.
Information about amniocentesis (although here they quote a risk of about 1/200 (0.5%) for miscarriage, literature suggests this risk is lower)

Information about screening (different from prenatal testing):

Information about chromosomes:

Foxfier, formerly Sailorette said...

The only information you've offered agrees with what I offered before-- 1 in 100-200.
The natural rate of miscarriage after 16 weeks is approximately 3 per cent. The additional risk due to amniocentesis is about 0.5 per cent (1/200), making the total risk about 3.5 per cent.

Do you have any citations for the literature that suggests the risk is lower?

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