Even Utah Doctors Encourage Abortion Based on Unreliable Prenatal Tests

  • Aubrey Wursten
  • 11/14/2020

Credit: Lakia Hinson on Pixy

An expectant mother who is told by her OB/GYN that her unborn baby has complications often faces pressure to abort. The pressure might come from friends or family, but shockingly, it also frequently comes from the doctor. 

Why is this shocking? Because the tests are often wrong. One study found that 15% of abortions performed due to likely fetal abnormalities resulted from inaccurate tests. And if mothers in Utah assume that their doctors in this largely conservative state would never suggest abortion based on faulty tests, they should prepare for another unpleasant surprise: 

It happens here.

Expectant mothers place themselves and their unborn children in the care of maternal fetal medicine specialists, most of whom are competent and trustworthy. But no matter how capable, doctors here and elsewhere are human and vulnerable to error, and they are also victims of their own biases and misunderstanding. (For a startling example, see this analysis of an op-ed and a lawsuit brought by several of them in Utah.) 

Add to that the imperfect technology that they use to make decisions, and you can see that mothers need to do their own research instead of blindly following even a trained professional. 

Screening Is Not Diagnosing

One major problem is that mothers may not understand that much of the testing being done falls into the screening category, not the diagnostic. Screening tests merely determine if your baby is more likely than average to have a certain abnormality, and the results should never be taken as an actual diagnosis of a problem.  

As a study in the New England Journal of Medicine notes, “Quirks in a mom’s DNA can alter...test results, leading parents — and even their doctors — to believe their babies have major disorders when they are, in fact, healthy. Although the error average differs from test to test, bear in mind that even a 5% false positivity rate (the estimated rate in the common Down Syndrome screening) leads to an enormous number of false positives over the general population.

Unfortunately, whether due to lack of communication or unconscious bias on the part of the physician, mothers do not always realize how fallible screening tests are. For example, the American Pregnancy Association merely notes that “screening tests have a greater chance of being wrong,” which one could argue downplays just how unreliable many of them are. 

Furthermore, they go on to encourage screening for some conditions to all mothers in the first trimester. This in itself may not be a problem, but coupled with the misunderstanding of the term