Santorum said prenatal testing leads to miscarriage and abortion, but medical statistics say he’s wrong.

September 20, 2014

Abortion, Women's Health

Rick Santorum talking to Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation

Rick Santorum talking to Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation

Talking with Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation on February 9, 2012, Rick Santorum made three claims needed verification:

“We’re talking about specifically prenatal testing and specifically amniocentesis, which is a– which is a procedure that actually creates a risk of having a miscarriage when you have it and is done for the purposes of identifying maladies of a child in the womb.”

“We know, Bob, that ninety percent of Down syndrome children in America are aborted.”

“And yes, prenatal testing, amniocentesis does, in fact, result more often than not in this country in abortions. That is– that is a fact.”

(See Face the Nation Transcript)

Rick Santorum’s claims do not hold up well.

1. Yes, there is a risk of miscarriage for women who receive amniocentesis, and although the risk was reported to be as high as 1 in 200 women, recent studies suggest that the risk is really as low as 1 in 1600. (Source) Statistics available online all report a less than 1% chance of miscarriage.

2. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists issued a statement that says: “No current, comprehensive estimate of the number of pregnancy terminations following prenatal diagnosis exists.”

This means that claiming it as fact is stretching the truth. Several medical studies have shown that, yes, fetuses showing signs of Down syndrome are frequently aborted, and the rates are generally around 80 to 90 percent. However, these are limited to very small sample sizes and are not easily generalized to the entire American population.

Furthermore, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the number of babies born every year affected with Down syndrome has increased slightly in the United States to about 6,000 annually. (See this article.)

In other words, abortion rates for Down syndrome fetuses are declining, even though usage of amniocentesis is not declining.

3. Santorum’s last claim is a confused one. What he claims is incorrect, but what may be a better statement is that fetuses showing signs of extreme abnormality or defect are aborted more frequently. However, most amniocentesis finds that the baby is healthy.

According to the CDC, the following are the odds that a fetus is affected by a certain birth defect:

Nervous system defects:

  • Anencephaly (baby born without parts of brain/skull):                            1 in 4,859
  • Spina bifida without anencephaly (spine doesn’t form properly):           1 in 2,858
  • Encephalocele (sac-like protusion on back of head):                             1 in 12,235

Chromosomal defects:

  • Trisomy 13 (heart, brain, spinal cord, eye, lip malformation):                 1 in 7,906
    • Also known as Patau syndrome
  • Trisomy 21 (physical abnormalities and moderatemental handicap):     1 in 691
    • Also known as Down syndrome
  • Trisomy 18 (usually not known to live beyond 1 month)                         1 in 3,762
    • Also known as Edwards syndrome

Because of the relative infrequency of these problems, more than 90% of the time amniocentesis shows no problems.

Let’s not spread more myths that discourage people from accessing vital health services.

Advertisements
, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

About jslachman381

I'm a Yale graduate who majored in History of Science, Medicine, and Public Health.

View all posts by jslachman381

Subscribe

Subscribe to our RSS feed and social profiles to receive updates.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: