14 June 2017, The Tablet

Down's Syndrome abortions increase due to private availability of new test, claim Down's advocacy groups

The Government has confirmed the Non-Invasive Pre-screening Test will be made available on the NHS from 2018.

The number of abortions for Down’s syndrome continued to rise last year, in all likelihood due to the private availability of a new diagnostic test set to be rolled-out publicly next year, Down’s advocacy groups claim.

The 2016 abortion statistics from the Department of Health in England and Wales showed an increase from 689 abortions for Down’s syndrome in 2015 to 706 in 2016. There were also nine abortions for cleft lip and cleft palate.

Non-Invasive Prenatal Testing (NIPT) is now being used privately for testing if unborn babies have Down’s syndrome, without the potentially risky need for an amniocentesis. It is said to be 99 per cent effective. The Government has confirmed NIPT will be made available on the NHS from 2018.

Don’t Screen Us Out, a coalition of Down’s syndrome advocacy groups, said a National Screening Committee pilot study predicts the new screening will detect 102 more babies with Down’s Syndrome a year. Currently 90 per cent of people in the UK who find out their child will have Down’s Syndrome choose to have them aborted, which would equate to an increase of 92 abortions annually. A third of women opt out of screening.

The coalition is urging Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to delay the implementation of the new test until there has been full consultation with the Down’s Syndrome community and greater support provided for parents with a pre-natal diagnosis of Down’s.

The Abortion Act of 1967 allows abortions until 24 weeks but abortions on the grounds of severe disability have no upper limit. Earlier this year, Conservative peer Lord Shinkwin, who was born with a rare genetic brittle bone disease, brought a bill to ban all abortions after 24 weeks to the Commons, but it was defeated.

Overall, the total number of abortions carried out in England and Wales in 2016 (190, 406) was slightly lower than in 2015 (185 824). However pro-life group Life called the abortion rate in this country “a national tragedy”.

Pro-life group Precious Life welcomed the latest abortion statistics’ decline in the number of women from Northern Ireland having abortions in Britain. Figures showed 724 women from Northern Ireland travelled to Britain for an abortion in 2016, a 13 per cent decrease on the 833 women in 2015.


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