Fears England will see rise in abortions as new Down’s syndrome test set to be rolled out

A decision announced by Public Health England to introduce a new controversial screening test across the NHS could lead to a rise in abortions, it is feared.

Public Health England announced that the non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT) technique called ‘cell-free DNA’ (cfDNA) will be available as an additional test in all health boards in England from 1 June 2021. 

There are concerns from charities, campaigners and people living with Down’s syndrome that without the correct reform and action, the test could lead to more children with Down’s syndrome screened out by termination.

SCREENED OUT

“As a mother of a daughter who has Down’s syndrome, I see every day the unique value she brings to our family and the positive impact she has on others around her,” enthuses Lynn Murray, spokesperson for Don’t Screen Us Out campaign.

“While the screening itself is being heralded as a move to reduce the number of miscarriages associated with invasive amniocentesis, the figures published in the Sunday Times revealed that the number of babies born with Down’s syndrome fell by 30 per cent in NHS hospitals that have already introduced the new test.

“When this test is rolled out across the country, we can expect to see this situation replicated elsewhere. Such outcomes are likely to have a profoundly negative impact on the Down’s syndrome community.”

Recently published research by Frank Buckley, Brian Skotko and Gert de Graaf also found that the number of British babies born with Down’s syndrome has halved. This is due to more parents opting to take the controversial blood test that will identify the condition during pregnancy. 

INQUIRY

Lynn continues: “We are calling on the Government to halt the roll-out of the tests on the NHS immediately and to undertake an urgent inquiry into the impact that these tests are having on birth numbers of babies with Down’s syndrome.

“There also needs to be greater support for parents who are expecting a child with Down’s syndrome.”

The Don’t Screen Us Out campaign is a collection of people with Down’s syndrome, families and Down’s syndrome advocate groups. The collective is campaigning to change unfair stigma and prejudice in the medical field surrounding Down’s syndrome.

Calling on the government as a matter of urgency to assess the impact from the introduction of the test in England, alongside introducing reforms, such as guidelines on antenatal care for women found to be carrying a baby with Down’s syndrome. 

Without corrective action, NIPT may only worsen the culture of informally eugenic anti-disabled discrimination that exists in the Fetal Anomaly Screening Programme.

“There is mounting evidence that an unconscious bias exists in the FASP programme,” Lynn adds. 

“We need the right reforms to turn things around and ensure that the tenets of diversity and inclusivity extend to screening conversations in the NHS.”

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