Impact of NIPS on abortion? It’s complicated

PIRC collaborator Subhashini Chandrasekharan is quoted in an article released today on GenomeWeb: “With Rapid Uptake of Noninvasive Prenatal Screening, Many Question Its Impact on Abortion” (free registration required to access). GenomeWeb reporter Monica Heger notes that noninvasive prenatal screening (NIPS), “one of the fastest adopted clinical tests,” is now becoming a routinized part of prenatal care worldwide. Many abortion opponents have assumed this new technology will result in a huge increase in abortions, but the data are not nearly so clear. Chandrasekharan says,

“The immediate jump from yes we’ll be able to detect more genetic abnormalities prenatally, and, yes, therefore more people will terminate the pregnancy, that’s where I have doubts.”

Brian Skotko, a medical geneticist who co-directs the Down syndrome program at Massachusetts General Hospital, notes that, although predicting a rise in terminations due to NIPS “wouldn’t be unreasonable,” he has also seen many patients who choose noninvasive testing strictly for information, favoring it over diagnostic testing that poses a small risk of miscarriage. Miriam Kuppermann, a professor at UCSF, noted that her empirical data on prenatal decision-making have pointed to a similar early trend, and that “it may be that women who are having cell-free DNA testing are not as inclined to terminate.”

Chandrasekharan pointed out that for some conditions, prenatal screening allows families who wish to continue a pregnancy to plan for services and get in touch with patient advocate organizations for support. “For some, knowing that early is helpful.”

The article points to the need for empirical research on the relationship between NIPS and abortion decisions, particularly given the impact of aggressive marketing of the new tests. Said Kuppermann, “That will be a really important piece of research to do.”

 

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