Later today the campaign group Don’t Screen Us Out will deliver a petition to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt asking that he oppose the introduction NIPT – of a safe, accurate test for trisomy disorders. Their stated reason is a fear that improved detection rate for Down’s syndrome will lead to an increased abortion rate for affected pregnancies, and perhaps the elimination of Down’s syndrome altogether. This is a strange argument since it’s largely coming from families who have either chosen not to screen or chosen to have children with Down’s, and are themselves proof against their own claims.
Not at all strangely, the issue has been hijacked by anti-choice campaigners: Don’t Screen Us Out spokesperson Lynn Murray is also a longstanding member of the anti-abortion group SPUC. Following my response to Sally Phillips’ documentary A World Without Down’s Syndrome?, Sky News invited me to debate the issue with James Mildred, described as a “bioethics commentator” here but more accurately an anti-abortion activist since he’s a spokesman for the religious anti-choice group CARE. During the interview, he conceded that he was entirely opposed to termination and motivated in this by Christian beliefs.
For people like Mildred, the fact that the current testing regiment caused miscarriage in 1% of cases is irrelevant. The fact that NIPT is 99% accurate and will help families prepare for wanted babies with Down’s as well as end unwanted pregnancies does not interest them. NIPT itself is clearly better both for women and for the unborn they claim to be concerned about; the only reason to stop it is if you want is to stop women having information, because you don’t like the choices they make. Ultimately, opponents of NIPT don’t want to talk about the reality of bringing up a child with serious mental and physical disabilities, nor what happens when that child becomes an adult and still needs care. Mildred’s position isn’t just anti-woman, it’s anti-disability too.