Thursday, March 8, 2012

validating statistics regarding aborted pregnancies with a Down syndrome diagnosis

from PolitiFact Ohio:

"The fact is 90-percent of Down Syndrome children were aborted in this country."
Mike DeWine on Monday, February 20th, 2012 in an interview with MSNBC

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine caused quite a ripple in the Republican presidential primary race when he dropped his endorsement of Mitt Romney and threw his support behind Rick Santorum.

Santorum’s holds some ultra-conservative views, especially when it comes to women’s reproductive rights. He opposes birth control and abortion.

Enter DeWine, who served with Santorum in the United States Senate and became a close friend. Now that he is backing him, DeWine found himself trying to calm the flames left behind by Santorum as he stomped through Ohio for the March 6 GOP primary.

DeWine appeared Feb. 20 on MSNBC’s "The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell" and was asked about Santorum’s assertion that amniocentesis, a prenatal screening test, directly leads to an increase in the number of abortions. Santorum had made the claim earlier that day on the campaign trail in Ohio.

Would DeWine advise Santorum to stop talking about amniocentesis, O’Donnell asked. DeWine responded he would not, adding that Santorum was correct.

"The fact is 90-percent of Down syndrome children were aborted in this country," DeWine responded. "Maybe some people don’t think that is a problem. I’m shocked by it. I think it’s a sad commentary. And what he was simply saying is the government should not compel every insurance policy that is written to cover that."

DeWine went on to share a personal story, saying that his wife declined prenatal testing during her eighth pregnancy when the doctor told her that if problems were detected with the fetus that abortion could be an option.

"My wife said, ‘no, I’m not going to do that,’ " DeWine said.

DeWine’s 90-percent figure caught PolitiFact Ohio’s attention.

His claim is similar to one made by state Rep. Richard Corcoran during a debate over six abortion bills in the Florida House of Representatives. Politifact Florida checked Corcoran’s statement in April 2011 and rated it True.

More recently, PolitiFact national rated a similar comment from Santorum. After finding some additional information about the data, Santorum’s claim got a rating of Half True. We’ve incorporated that data here.

Corcoran cited a New York Times article from 2007 that discussed how effective prenatal testing to detect Down syndrome could reduce the number of children born with the genetic condition, and how parents of children with Down syndrome were trying to convince others not to abort fetuses that tested positive for the condition.

The story included almost the same line that Corcoran used — that "about 90 percent of pregnant women who are given a Down syndrome diagnosis have chosen to have an abortion."

The story linked to a 1999 study from the Psychology and Genetics Research Group at King’s College in London which discussed abortion rates after a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome. It compiled results from 20 other studies measuring abortion rates and concluded that, following a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome, 92 percent of women chose to have an abortion.

Other studies showed similar percentages.

A study from Wayne State University in Michigan examined 145 pregnancies with a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome from 1988-97 and found that 19 (13.1 percent) women chose continuation of the pregnancy,
while 126 (86.9 percent) chose termination. Another study examined 131 prenatally diagnosed cases of Down syndrome in Hawaii from 1987-96 and found that women in 110 of those cases (84 percent) chose to have their pregnancies terminated. A study in San Francisco published in 2006 found an overall rate of 81 percent.

That data was cited to rate Corcoran’s statement.

However, in additional research for the Santorum comment and for this article, PolitiFact found information that makes the question less cut-and-dried.

A joint statement from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and other groups cautioned against generalizing about national patterns from a series of smaller, local studies.
"No current, comprehensive estimate of the number of pregnancy terminations following prenatal diagnosis exists," the statement said. "Several studies reporting older data, studies from single centers and studies from other countries have reflected variation in the number of pregnancies terminated. These studies are frequently cited, but given their limitations, are difficult to generalize to the current population of pregnant women in the United States. Undocumented observations from prenatal genetic counselors in the United States suggest that the rate of termination for prenatally diagnosed Down syndrome may vary across the country. New research is called for to comprehensively explore the uptake of prenatal testing and the outcomes of prenatally diagnosed pregnancies in order to more accurately define how women currently incorporate prenatal testing into their lives."

Mark I. Evans, a physician and president of the Fetal Medicine Foundation of America and a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, emphasized that the percentage can vary significantly based on region and other factors.

"In liberal areas such as New York City, probably 80 to 90 percent of patients with severe abnormalties do choose to terminate when legal to do so," Evans said. "In conservative areas, the proportion of terminations is much lower, perhaps as little as 10 percent" in some cases.

The issue is addressed, too, in a paper in the journal Issues in Law & Medicine titled "Informed Consent or Institutionalized Eugenics? How the Medical Profession Encourages Abortion of Fetuses with Down Syndrome." The paper cites the example of a professor and practitioner, Elizabeth Gettig, who found that "almost 100 percent" of women with a Down syndrome diagnosis chose to abort when she practiced in North Carolina, but the number dropped to about half when she relocated to Pittsburgh. Gettig offered several reasons for the disparity.

"First, the Pittsburgh region has a higher percentage of Catholics," the paper said. "Second, there are more services than most cities in Pittsburgh to assist children who have disabilities."

There is an element of truth in DeWine’s claim. A number of studies have shown an abortion rate from 80 percent to 90 percent.

But all of those studies were localized. And we found experts who cautioned against applying that kind of research to the country as a whole, as DeWine did.

And DeWine’s comment was broader than Corcoran’s or Santorum’s and broader than what was encompassed in the studies.

Corcoran and Santorum specifically referred to cases in which there was a Down syndrome diagnosis. That also was the focus of the research.

In the interview, DeWine was asked about Santorum’s comments about pre-natal screenings and abortion. But his claim, that it’s a fact that "90-percent of Down syndrome children were aborted in this country," made no such mention of screenings and a Down Syndrome diagnosis. His statement would also include, for example, Down syndrome children born to mothers who had no prenatal testing.

That’s a critical fact that would give a different impression of the accuracy of his claim.

On the Truth-O-Meter, DeWine’s statement rates Mostly False.


  1. The last portion of this article deserves more consideration than it gets when talking about this issue. Very few women in this country actually elect to have an amniocentesis - it was quoted as 3% in one article I read. Many women choose not to have an amniocentesis because they know it won't change their decision to have the baby. So the group that chooses to have the test is likely to contain a higher percentage of people prepared to terminate a pregnancy than those who choose not to test. That makes it highly inaccurate to extrapolate the abortion figures to the general population. Ninety percent of children with Down syndrome are not aborted. It's only ninety percent among the three percent that choose the test.


  3. Very few women in this country actually elect to have an amniocentesis - it was quoted as 3% in one article I read. Many women choose not to have an amniocentesis because they know it won't change their decision to have the baby.
    Termination of Pregnancy

  4. Beth, that is true, but it is rare not to get the test. When I elected not to test, they acted like I had was losing my mind, they couldn't believe it. I had to sign multiple waivers NOT test for the 1st trimester blood work and ultrasound. I had to sign another waiver not to get an amnio. I guess they were worried that I would sue if they didn't tell me there was something wrong. I am sure most women who get prenatal care get the scans and then amnio if something is wrong with either the 1st trimester or 18 week ultrasounds.
    I think the issue is that these politicians can't claim a certain percentage of abortions happen to DS kids base on the data because there are too many variables. I would agree that there are way too many and not looked upon with the same distaste that people give a woman choosing abortion without a known defect, but they should get their point across without using bad math as they lose credibility.

  5. I have often wondered about these statistics. They are cited way too often. That, and the statement, "There are over 200 families on wait lists to adopt a child with Down Syndrome." I had the amnio, when my 12 week blood test revealed a strong chance of Down Syndrome. For me, I just had to know, in the same way that I had to know if we were having a boy or a girl. When the results came back, the Maternal Fetal Specialist automatically assumed I was going to abort (or "terminate the pregnancy" which I guess sounded nicer in his book?). Even though I said before the amnio that I was going to keep the baby, no matter what. He looked at his desk calendar, searching for a termination date that would work with his own schedule. It was shocking. Anyway, fast forward, and here my son is almost 20 months old now. I often wonder if my own experience is getting counted in the statistics somewhere out there.

  6. Yes, results are already showing how abortion of T21 babies have been rapidly increasing. These people should have known who are they killing. Perhaps special kids like them are the most lovable kids. They are faithful to their love and do not decide to leave their parents/