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Society for the Protection of Unborn Children

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Huge rise in abortions of Down’s syndrome babies in UK

Society for the Protection of Unborn Children

December 17, 2018 (Society for the Protection of Unborn Children) – People with Down's syndrome, their families and advocacy groups have expressed concern after revised figures revealed that the number of abortions for Down's syndrome have increased by 50% over the last ten years.

Earlier in the week, the Department of Health revised the published 2017 abortion statistics to include 3000 missing records. The new figures showed an alarming increase in abortions, with the overall number at its highest since 2008.

Eliminating disabled babies

The revised figures also show that the policy of eliminating disabled babies is continuing at an even worse rate than thought. Three thousand three hundred fourteen abortions were due to the "risk that the child would be born seriously handicapped" (rather than the 3,158 in the original statistics). This means that there has been an increase from the 3208 reported in 2016 – and an even bigger escalation when compared with 2,307 in 2011. 

In particular, the revised statistics show that there were 655 abortions for Down's syndrome in 2017 rather than the 632 that was originally reported in June. This now brings it to a 50% increase in abortion for Down's syndrome in the last ten years with figures rising from 437 in 2007.

Screening making it worse

The Don't Screen Us Out Campaign say that this is likely due to the private availability of cfDNA testing (otherwise known as NIPT) which has already been predicted to increase the numbers of children with Down's syndrome being screened out by termination.

They say: "This situation is set to get far worse as the Government still intends to move ahead with proposals to implement cfDNA testing into the Fetal Anomaly Screening Programme.

"Proponents of the test have glossed over the fact that a National Screening Committee pilot study predicts the new screening will detect 102 more babies with Down's syndrome every year. Based on the current 90% of pregnancies that are aborted after the baby is found to have Down's syndrome, this would mean an increase of 92 abortions for Down's syndrome annually.

"That reduction equates to an overall decline of Down's syndrome live births by 13% and would lead to a corresponding reduction in the number of people with the condition in the UK. Such an outcome is likely to have a profoundly negative impact on the community of people with Down's syndrome."

"NIPT is for terminations"

NIPT testing has already been found to have exacerbated the discriminatory attitudes towards babies with Down's syndrome which are still prevalent in the medical profession. One mother was told by a midwife that "the purpose of the test is for terminations" and the Welsh Government was forced to scrap a leaflet given to women who chose to have the screening after it was criticised for overly focusing on the medical problems their baby was likely to face. Campaigners said that women were being "pushed towards terminations". 

Such attitudes in the medical profession, encouraged by the Government mandated screening programme, will make it increasingly difficult for babies with Down's syndrome to survive beyond life in the womb.

Published with permission from Society for the Protection of Unborn Children.

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