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Concerns Raised About Blood Tests That Can Determine Sex, Genetic Disorders Early in Pregnancy

Concerns Raised About Blood Tests That Can Determine Sex, Genetic Disorders Early in Pregnancy

August 22, 2011 — A blood test available in drugstores and online that can accurately predict a fetus' sex is among the first of an "expected raft" of related tests that also can detect genetic disorders, such as Down syndrome, early in pregnancy, science reporter Pam Belluck writes in the New York Times' Sunday Review Desk.

The unregulated tests allow pregnant women to determine the fetus’ sex several weeks earlier than an ultrasound can and are less invasive and less risky than amniocentesis, according to the Times (Belluck, New York Times, 8/21). A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that the blood test, which analyzes fetal DNA in a pregnant woman's blood, can determine fetal sex with 95% accuracy at seven weeks of pregnancy and with 99% accuracy at 20 weeks if used correctly (Women's Health Policy Report, 8/10).

The possibility that the test will lead to sex-selective abortion "discomfits many and is also providing fuel for antiabortion politics," Belluck reports.

"I think over the long run this has the potential of changing attitudes toward pregnancy and to family," Audrey Chapman, a bioethicist at the University of Connecticut Health Center, said. "Women may be less invested in their pregnancies earlier than they are later, and the question has been raised whether women will look at their pregnancies increasingly as being conditional: 'I will keep this pregnancy only if,'" she added. James Egan, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Connecticut Health Center, explained that many women could consider relatively private medication abortions early in pregnancy based on the results of such genetic tests.

Antiabortion-rights groups oppose the tests in general and have been pushing sex selection abortion bans in state legislatures. According to John Robertson, a professor of law and bioethics at the University of Texas, the laws may not survive court challenges. However, abortion rights groups that oppose bans on sex selective abortion could nevertheless be reluctant to challenge them in court (New York Times, 8/21).