Pre-Natal DNA Testing and Abortion

17 Jun

Marcy Darnovsky of the Center for Genetics and Society calls it a “game changer.” Malcolm Ritter says it’s time to consider the “ethics” behind it.  Josephine Johnston of Hastings Center says it is a “burden” to parents.

What is it?  Pre-natal genetic testing. This already exists, to predict gender and other things, but in the future, the author warns, parents could simply have the mother’s blood drawn  and a number of genetic markers of the fetus can be gleaned. Parents would in theory be able to pick and choose their fetus’ blood type, gender, eye color, sexuality, and discard a fetus that has a higher risk of, say, contracting cancer.

Even though the likelihood of the procedure becoming wildly known, accepted, and available is years off, author Malcolm Ritter of the Associated Press considers the moral, legal and ethical pitfalls behind abortion of a pregnancy after a parent finds out from the genetic test that her child has a high likelihood of being gay, or contracting breast cancer later in life, or will be left handed, or have one blue eye and one brown eye.

He calls these reasons for abortion “non-medical,” and warns that parents would routinely abort a pregnancy due to genetic predictors of illness or sexuality when–not if–pre-natal genetic blood tests become wildly available.

Marcy Darnovsky suggests that parents will now decide what fetus will or will not be good enough to be born. “This really changes the experience of what it will be like to be pregnant and have a child,” she says. “I keep coming up with the word game-changer.”

Whether genetic testing to predict cancer and sexuality is going to change the experience of being pregnant, I don’t know. Neither do I know if the prospect of wide genetic testing in such a non-invasive way is indeed going to be a game-changer. Because when I read articles like this, I immediately think of the warnings in grade school, “take one try of marijuana and you’ve opened the flood gates to every other sordid drug in the world. You’re on a one way trip to misery if you try it.”  Because it’s these type of scare-tactic articles, shrouded in shadowy science fiction disguised as medical knowledge, that effectively argue, “this is what will happen since abortion is legal.”

Even though talking about genetic testing is important, and does indeed suggest a number of legal, ethical and moral questions, the fact that abortion is lumped into the discussion, as if it too deserves to be morally, legally, and ethically scrutinized (as if it’s possible for abortion to be scrutinized any more) is unfortunate and draws from me the most cynical of reactions. Namely, that this is another scare story, one that is used to embolden the anti-choice groups and legislators.

After reading the AP article, I can’t help but  remember a suggestion of my biology teacher in junior year, of high school. I was keenly interested in biology because learning about genetics was fascinating. The school was Catholic, so there was a limit and a more, um, biblical alternative given to each scientific explanation for life, but still, biology was fun.

When the subject of genetic testing came up, the professor divided the class of 20-something students, and assigned one group (mine) to debate from  the “scientific” point of view, while the other group was to assigned to the “biblical” point of view.  Topic of debate was whether genetic testing is moral.  The debate went back and forth, with lots of yelling  and “hushing” from the professor, straw-mans and ad-hom  attacks were frequently shut down. By the end of the class period, the professor called attention to the room and said that, in his opinion, genetic testing could, in theory, wipe out the necessity of men.

The boys in the room gasped, the women snickered, I clapped. The professor went on, saying that genetic testing and manipulation could become so advanced that eventually cloning would become mainstream, humans with an XY chromosomes (males) would no longer be made because they would just keep reproducing humans with XX chromosomes- of course only the good humans, he mused. It was bizarre, watching the young, somewhat endearingly weird science teacher fall into such a pit of superstition and absurd science-fiction horror story-telling.

Reading Ritter’s warnings in his AP article brought back the same feelings I had that day in biology class. My teacher was a nice man, of course, and smart. But damn, the warnings of cloning were too “off the deep end” for me to believe. The same goes for this article.

Today, the subject of alternative forms of conception is still taboo, and not only that , it’s expensive. Parents know these days, via ultrasound and testing (blood tests, among others) if their fetus will be born with a serious medical condition. Sometimes a parent chooses to abort and sometimes the parent does not choose to abort.  For most people, these choices aren’t even in their realm of possibilities. Medical care before, during and after pregnancy aren’t possible for most women in the world. And Ritter is worried women will abort a fetus for having blue eyes and 30% chance of being gay.

He’s missing important issues facing women today: it’s dangerous to have children, our lives are at risk when our health care options are limited during and after pregnancy. Forcing women to give birth to an unwanted fetus is morally reprehensible and in the United States, at least, medaling in women’s private medical choices is illegal.   Genetic testing, now and in the future, is an issue that is worth consideration and public acknowledgement, but getting lost down the rabbit hole of spooky unknowns is a waste of time and distorts the reality of women today. It skips over the very real and very urgent issue of health care access for women and children–including a legal medical procedure: abortion.

2 Responses to “Pre-Natal DNA Testing and Abortion”

  1. Gordon June 21, 2011 at 5:25 pm #

    It is often interesting to me to try to figure out the unstated assumptions behind things. Your science teacher’s sci-fi horror story seems to me to stand directly on the (utterly vile and depraved IMHO) Catholic assumption that the only reason for sex to exist is to make babies.


  1. Will Prenatal Testing Increase Abortions? « Pro-Life Hotline - June 20, 2011

    […] have on pregnancy. Upon reading this, “Sophia,” a writer for the Abortion Gang blog, reflected: Genetic testing, now and in the future, is an issue that is worth consideration and public […]

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