WashPost Beats Around the Abortion Bush on Down Syndrome Test

November 14th, 2005 6:46 AM

After a week of vacation, I still want to catch up on the newspapers. Here's a front-page headline from Thursday's Washington Post: "Down Syndrome Now Detectable In 1st Trimester: Earlier Diagnosis Allows More Time for Decisions." Why couldn't the Post be precise: earlier diagnosis allows more time for abortion decisions?

Reporter Rob Stein says a new test combining blood screening and ultrasound "can pinpoint many fetuses with the common genetic disorder 11 weeks after conception. That allows women to decide sooner whether to undergo the riskier follow-up testing needed to confirm the diagnosis." Then in paragraph four, the A-word finally appears: "Screening women before the second trimester allows those who might opt to terminate a pregnancy to make that decision when doctors say an abortion is safer and less traumatic." Safer for whom?

Stein does not attempt to report on one obvious question: how many detected Down syndrome babies are abortion? What's the percentage? In a touching op-ed by former Post reporter Patricia Bauer last month, she wrote: " I don't know how many pregnancies are terminated because of prenatal diagnoses of Down syndrome, but some studies estimate 80 to 90 percent."

In a piece about her daughter Margaret, she told of people disapproving of her decision not to abort: "In ancient Greece, babies with disabilities were left out in the elements to die. We in America rely on prenatal genetic testing to make our selections in private, but the effect on society is the same. Margaret's old pediatrician tells me that years ago he used to have a steady stream of patients with Down syndrome. Not anymore. Where did they go, I wonder. On the west side of L.A., they aren't being born anymore, he says."

Despite having no numbers on Down abortions in his report, Stein ends his article with the Irish surgeon issuing the report: "Malone and others, however, said they doubted the approach would result in more abortions." But then, what's the point of the new test, if not to make abortions more numerous?