For most expectant parents, their one hope is that their preborn babies will be healthy. But what if that’s not the case? Countless parents will receive difficult news during their pregnancy, receiving a prenatal diagnosis of a birth defect or disability. What happens afterward is often tragic: according to a new study focusing on congenital heart disease (CHD), parents are likely to choose abortion for their preborn child, even when the condition is treatable. These babies are aborted a majority of the time.
The study, published in the medical journal JAMA Cardiology, found that fewer children are being born with CHD than before. In 2004, the abortion rate for babies with CHD was 0.6%. In 2013, it had skyrocketed to 39.1% after more prenatal screenings were offered, an increase of 65%. For babies receiving such a prenatal diagnosis, the majority were aborted:
Among those cases diagnosed before birth, fully 57.8% of the pregnancies were terminated, reported Rebekka Lytzen, PhD, of Copenhagen University, and colleagues in JAMA Cardiology.
Alexander Kon, of the University of California San Diego, defended diagnosing these children prenatally, as it can give parents more time to prepare, both medically and emotionally, and can improve surgical outcomes and better neonatal palliative care. Unfortunately, it seems that “preparing” is not what most parents are doing with the information. They’re choosing to abort instead.
What makes the abortion rate even more tragic is that medically, parents have more reason than ever to be optimistic.
“We’ve gotten so good at operating on these complex hearts and we have impeccable results with an overall mortality even around 1%, so in some cases [it] depends on what the morphology is. So we have come a long way in how we manage these kids,” said Hani Najm, a doctor who works at Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.
But prenatal screening alone may not be why women are choosing abortion. It is not unusual for doctors to pressure women to have an abortion or exaggerate the negative information after a prenatal diagnosis of a birth defect or disability like Down syndrome. People with disabilities are frequently treated as if they are better off dead than alive. With such an ableist society and doctors who seem to urge women towards having abortions, it should come as no surprise that the abortion rate for babies with CHD and other disabilities is skyrocketing.