An issue in the current abortion debate is the effect the proposed law will have on abortion rates of unborn babies with non-fatal abnormalities. Two things are worth noting. First, is that several very senior doctors seem to have no objection in principle to the law allowing abortion in such cases. The second is that these abnormalities can be detected before the 12 week cut-off, when terminations can take place for any reason.
Three of these doctors include Professor Fergal Malone and Dr Jennifer Donnelly of the Rotunda Hospital, and Dr Rhona Mahony, Master of the National Maternity Hospital.
Talking at an event organized by the Together for Yes, Dr Donnelly called for the repeal of the Eighth amendment and cited what she called “complex foetal abnormalities”, which would include conditions that would not necessarily lead to death soon after birth.
Rhona Mahony on RTE News at One last week stated that non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT) is offered in her hospitals. The purpose is to prepare families to the risk that their children might suffer of some disabilities but she admitted that often, when anomalies are detected, an abortion follows.
“We have seen an increase of the uptake of this test. Most women take this test mostly for reassurance. Given that Down Syndrome is quite rare, most women will be reassured. I think it is very important to note that we have antenatal diagnoses, for example in the Rotunda figures 50% of women would choose to continue the pregnancy, knowing that baby has Down Syndrome, 50 choose not to continue.” (The audio can be found here: https://clyp.it/kournydi?token=e2e2e96736a38da14dd55783e5cf43c2)
Again, no principled objection was offered.
Professor Fergal Malone, Master of the Rotunda hospital, spoke on Liveline about the foetal DNA testing offered in his hospital. He referred to the “unfortunate few who are given the information that they’ve a high risk for conditions like Down Syndrome”. (The audio can be found here: https://clyp.it/f1ldut31?token=10ad327119f09bfffe3ef0880cdad3a9) The use of the word ‘unfortunate’ upset a caller who has a child with Down Syndrome.
As with the other two doctors, no principled objection was raised to abortion in this scenario.
Those who defend the law proposed by Minister Simon Harris claim that abortion won’t be allowed for disability. But abortion is allowed for any reason before 12 weeks, so what happens if disability can be detected before then? This is the crucial question.
Screening is now offered in Ireland that does detect abnormalities before the 12 week cut-off making the apparent ‘ban’ moot.
In the Rotunda Private, where Prof. Malone works, the foetal DNA test is offered at nine weeks gestation and results come back “typically in a week” (Prof. Malone’s words on Liveline). These are screening tests with an accuracy of 99.9%. A further diagnostic test is advised but one can imagine that some couples who are keen to have an abortion in such a circumstance won’t take a second test, particularly if the 12 week limit puts them under time pressure.
In the Merrion Fetal Health, where Dr Mahony also works, the Harmony test is offered at 10 weeks and results arrive within seven days.
In Cork, a new company called P4ML was set up in 2017. They offer NIPT tests at nine weeks gestation and results are available within 2-4 business days. On their website, Prof. Louise Kenny appears as a testimonial. She is one of the most vocal doctors campaigning for Together for Yes and she often appears in tv and radio debates. P4ML are also supporting the YES campaign on Twitter, and her involvement in it.
These examples prove that chromosomal anomalies can be detected via Irish clinics well before the 12 week time limit. With the advancement of technology, these tests will become cheaper, more available, and more accurate and earlier. They can be used to prepare a family to welcome a child with a disability or to abort the child. Only keeping the 8th amendment in the Constitution will guarantee that scientific technology will be employed not for eugenics but for real care and compassion.
In addition, it is very likely that unborn children with disabilities will also be aborted after 12 weeks under the ‘mental health’ of the mother ground. This is what happens in Germany.
PS: In France the availability of prenatal diagnosis has caused a 40% drop in the incidence of Cystic Fibrosis. “If the fetus is found to be CF-affected, genetic counseling is offered to the couple and the possibility of therapeutic termination is made available.” More here.