Is the HHS Taking Aim at Babies With Down Syndrome?

Prenatal-testing mandate could lead to more abortions.

Most of the attention on the Department of Health and Human Services recommendations for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has focused on the mandated insurance coverage of contraception. But the recommendation of the Institute of Medicine’s report on “Clinical Preventive Services for Women,” which was adopted in its entirety by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, contains another worrisome provision — that it fund prenatal testing — possibly leading to more abortions.


“Buried in the IOM report is the recommendation for no-cost, well-woman visits; these visits include prenatal care — and thus prenatal testing for ‘genetic or developmental conditions,’” according to attorney and bioethicist Mark Leach in Public Discourse. “This prompts the question: How does prenatal testing prevent Down syndrome?”

The report states: “Another type of well-woman, preventative-care visit is in the routine prenatal care for pregnant women. ... The recommended content of the visit includes specific tests and procedures (e.g., blood pressure, weight, urine test, uterine size and fetal heart-rate assessment, glucose-tolerance testing, and screening for specific sexually transmitted infections and genetic or developmental conditions).” 

Since Down syndrome is present from conception and cannot be treated in utero, it would appear that the birth of babies with Down syndrome is prevented by making certain that all women receive prenatal screening, which in 90% of cases leads to abortion. Congress just passed legislation prohibiting the abortion of babies because of their race or sex with no provisions against abortions for genetic anomalies. Targeting a child for elimination based upon an irregular number of genes is not only legal in America — it may be paid for by our tax dollars. 

Rick Santorum created a firestorm in February by saying that prenatal testing led to abortion in 90% of cases where the unborn child is diagnosed with Down syndrome. A heated discussion erupted in the media, with periodicals like the Tampa Bay Times running articles flatly denying the link between prenatal testing and abortion. International scientific literature, however, supports the Republican presidential candidate’s claim that prenatal screening leads to tragically high abortion rates. 

A 2004 study published in the journal <I>Fetal Medicine</I> explored the connection between prenatal-screening policies in Europe and termination for neural-tube defects and Down syndrome. Excluding data from Ireland and Malta, where abortion is illegal, results showed that more than 90% of women terminated following a prenatal diagnosis. So, having a screening policy results in more prenatal detection, and almost all babies with Down syndrome are terminated.


Could it be the intent of the Obama administration to prevent children with Down syndrome from being born? If so, it would not be the first time a eugenic agenda has darkened American public policy. Tucker Carlson pointed out in a 1996 Weekly Standard article that Joycelyn Elders, in 1990, when she was Arkansas state health director, testified before Congress that “abortion has had an important, and positive, public-health effect,” in that it has reduced “the number of children afflicted with severe defects.”


“As evidence, the future (U.S.) surgeon general cited this statistic: ‘The number of Down syndrome infants in Washington state in 1976 was 64% lower than it would have been without legal abortion,’” Carlson wrote. 


Bottom Line Benefits


Eugenic abortion has bottom-line benefits as well. According to the Life Issues Institute, “a $180-million study done in the United States, partially funded by the March of Dimes, concluded that such ‘services’ were ‘cost-effective’ when compared to the high cost of caring for ‘blighted’ children. A March of Dimes vice president concluded that ‘expanded genetic services could save the government billions of dollars in custodial care of genetically handicapped children.’” 

Could coverage of prenatal testing be another cost-cutting measure in “Obamacare”? Secretary Sebelius cited cost-effectiveness as the reason for covering the cost of contraception.


“The reduction in the number of pregnancies compensates for the cost of contraception,” Sebelius testified before a House of Representatives committee on March 1.


Should our representatives in Congress permit a segment of our society to be targeted for elimination simply because they cost money? Who would agree, for example, that treating drug addicts or cancer patients is too costly so they must be eliminated? 

This is not a uniquely American problem. Mike Sullivan, a New Zealand father of a daughter with Down syndrome, considers universal prenatal testing conducted by his country’s Ministry of Health a form of persecution outlawed by the International Criminal Court (ICC) and formed Savingdowns to pursue legal action jointly with New Zealand Right to Life.

“The basis of the complaint is that the program specifically targets and persecutes unborn children with Down syndrome and other rare genetic conditions through the prevention of their births,” Sullivan explained. “The persecution of an identifiable group of the civilian population, through the prevention of births, is impermissible under Articles 6 and 7 of the Rome Statute. New Zealand is party to the Rome Statute and is bound to comply with any ruling from the ICC.”

“The emphasis of the ICC complaint is on intent and consequences, with genetic screening and selective abortion being the means,” he continued. “The intent is to identify unborn children with Down syndrome, spina bifida and other conditions, so that births to the group can be prevented. The consequence of the screening program is that a substantial part of these groups is being systematically destroyed.”


Jerome Lejeune

Eugenic abortion is alive and well in many national health-care plans. It is contrary to our human dignity, according to French geneticist Dr. Jerome Lejeune, who discovered Trisomy 21, the cause of Down syndrome, in 1959. His discovery, when used with karotyping and amniocentesis, formed the basis of prenatal testing. Lejeune was greatly distressed that his discovery was used to perform eugenic abortions, and he spent the rest of his life seeking a cure for Down syndrome, believing that the only way to keep such children from disappearing was to cure them. 

“People say, ‘The price of genetic diseases is high. If these individuals could be eliminated early on, the savings would be enormous.’” Lejeune said in 1992. “It cannot be denied that the price of these diseases is high — in suffering for the individual and in burdens for society. Not to mention what parents suffer! But we can assign a value to that price: It is precisely what society must pay to be fully human.”

Lejeune defended the rights of the unborn and the disabled around the world, aware that he was losing his chance for the Nobel Prize in science that his discovery of Trisomy 21 merited.


The Church, however, has noted his heroic virtue, and, on June 28, 2007, Lejeune’s cause for canonization was opened in Paris. On April 11, a Mass at the Cathedral of Notre Dame will celebrate the end of the diocesan phase of Lejeune’s cause, as it will then move to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints. With two approved miracles, people with Down syndrome may have their own patron saint.


Some say Lejeune is already interceding for those with Down syndrome, noting the recent advances in research, which have led to several clinical trials of new medications to help reverse the cognitive delays of Trisomy 21, and the increasingly high profile of individuals with Down syndrome in society.


The United Nations this year recognized World Down Syndrome Day for the first time on March 21. The date — 3/21 — represents the three copies of the 21st chromosome which cause the syndrome.

Parents and advocates for those with Down syndrome are thrilled about this recognition. “World Down Syndrome Day is needed now more than ever as advances in prenatal testing and government-funded screening programs are implemented,” Diane Grover, founder of International Down Syndrome Coalition for Life, told LifeSiteNews. “We want parents to be prepared when their physician offers a genetic screening. Too often, parents are given test results without any prior understanding of the tests they have been given, and they make decisions when they are most vulnerable.


“We want people to know the unlimited possibilities that can happen for individuals who have Down syndrome," Grover said. "Today, more than ever, people with Down syndrome are breaking barriers.” 

Register correspondent Leticia Velasquez writes from Canterbury, Connecticut, and is the mother of a child with Down syndrome.