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Will new Down syndrome test encourage abortion?

By Matt Abbott
Catholic Online

A Nov. 10, 2005 story in the Washington Post, by Rob Stein, reports that “A first-trimester screening test can reliably identify fetuses likely to be born with Down syndrome, providing expectant women with that information much earlier in a pregnancy than current testing allows, according to a major study being released today.

“The eagerly awaited study of more than 38,000 U.S. women -- the largest ever conducted -- found that the screening method, which combines a blood test with an ultrasound exam, 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….”

The Post story quotes the study’s leader, Fergal D. Malone of the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin: "This is a big deal for women. It's going to have a big impact on care for women, not just in the United States but throughout the world.”

Not surprisingly, Malone isn’t exactly pro-life.

From the Post story:

“Women who would opt to terminate a pregnancy based on the results would be able to do so much earlier, when abortion is less risky and less traumatic, Malone said….

“‘Most women are probably going to make the same decision now as before. If she decides to terminate the pregnancy, this just makes it safer and maximizes her privacy and confidentiality,’ Malone said.”

Shawn O’Neill, a staunchly pro-life Catholic who resides in Ashburn, Va., does not welcome this new screening test. Nor does he like how the Post portrays it.

“This kind of testing preps a parent for abortion and for the 'perfect' child,” says Shawn (via e-mail). “It seems right out of Hitler's playbook, and I'm surprised the Post is so arrogant as to put it on the front page.”

Shawn has his own story to tell.

“When my wife was pregnant with our first child, Nicholas, now 8, we went to the local Ob-Gyn and she wanted to do the same [type of] test. My wife worked at Maryland Pro-Life and the doctor saw that,” recounts Shawn.

“The doctor … told us at the time that the test was not to screen for abortion. I asked her, then why do it? She gave me some silly spin; then she said the test had a lot of false positives, meaning it would show a positive but would not mean it's a positive. The test was, according to her, about 45% accurate.

“Nicholas' best friend’s mother told us that when her son, Kirt, was in utero, she had a Down syndrome screening test performed (in the 1996-1997 time frame), and the test came up as a false positive. Kirt's mother wanted to keep the baby – she’s against abortion -- but the dad wanted the baby terminated. Kirt's mother won, and Kirt was born -- without Down syndrome.”

Concludes Shawn:

“The point is only God truly knows, and should know, what kind of health a baby will be in.”


(Matt C. Abbott is a Catholic journalist and commentator. He is a columnist for and/or contributor to Catholic Online,,,, and He is also an occasional contributor to "The Wanderer" Catholic newspaper. He can be reached at


Matt Abbott  IL, US
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