Touted as “risk free,” a new blood test from researchers at Tel Aviv University could be paving the way for more abortions by playing on fears of fetal anomalies as a reason for taking the life of a preborn baby. The leading Israel and Palestine newspaper, Haaretz reports, “Researchers at Tel Aviv University (TAU) have developed a blood test to check a fetus for genetic problems in the first trimester, at infinitely greater resolution than existing techniques, and at zero risk to the mother or baby….”
Haaretz adds that while the test has yet to be commercialized, it is meant to replace amniocentesis and microvilli testing, and would be performed far earlier in pregnancy, according to Prof. Noam Shomron of TAU’s Sackler School of Medicine. Shomron has based this conclusion on samples of pregnancies at 10-12 weeks, versus the usual 14-20 for amniocentesis — but the reason for the focus of 10-12 weeks is rather disturbing. Haaretz writes:
Why did the university focus on weeks 10 to 12? “Just because that’s the samples we received,” Shomron told Haaretz. “We are trying to reduce this timeline to day 40.”
That is not a random aspiration. In Jewish practice, fetal termination is permissible until the 40th day of pregnancy, but existing technologies for genertic [sic] testing are much too late for that.
There’s no mincing of words: researchers have focused their testing specifically to ensure women can abort their babies in time for it to still be “permissible.” (Although the baby’s heart has been beating since around day 16, and the baby has been a distinct human being since the moment of fertilization.) Apparently, as the story notes, looking for genetic abnormalities has become the cultural norm in Israel:
The norm has become to undergo genetic testing before getting pregnant, certainly in Israel, where certain populations have heightened propensity for genetic diseases, such as Tay Sachs among Ashkenazis [Ashkenazi Jews] and broad bean allergy among those of Middle—Eastern descent. Usually the tests cover about 30 common mutations.
But there are thousands upon thousands of detrimental, extremely rare mutations. This simple blood test, says Shomron, can scan for thousands of extremely rare but disabling mutations, and help the parents plan ahead. Knowing the father’s DNA can not only help track down the source of a mutation, but help to calculate its recessivity or dominance.
But this test may prove deeply problematic for even more reasons, as the story says, (emphasis added):
The team believes that its algorithm, used on the sequencing results, will predict mutations in the fetus with 99% or better accuracy, depending on the mutation type. “The practical applications are endless: a single blood test that would detect a wide range of genetic diseases, such as Tay-Sachs disease, cystic fibrosis and many others.”…
The team’s belief may not correspond to reality, and even if it does, what about the one percent? What happens when this test come to the United States and makes its way to restrictive abortion states? A simple early blood test could still push women toward early abortion, even in the form of a medication abortion. Some medical professionals already pressure families to abort when experiencing prenatal diagnoses; the pressure to rush into an abortion earlier could be even more extreme.
False positive results have been known to occur in genetic testing. This woman, for example, accidentally aborted a healthy baby. Amniocentesis itself is also not 100% accurate.
NBC News reports on other prenatal blood tests that have purported to predict fetal abnormalities, though these had fine print insisting on follow-up. What they found was troubling when it came to abortion, writing, “… [P]ositive results can be wrong 50 percent or more of the time. And an investigation by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting published in the Boston Globe found that “likely hundreds” of women are aborting fetuses based on this new generation of testing…” and the number of false positives is unknowable.
Meanwhile, Haaretz reports that TAU is “working on commercializing” the testing, as well as “transferring the technology to private companies.” This has potential to send the abortion rate soaring — from a lab in Israel all the way to the heartland of America.
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Author: Susan Michelle-Hanson