Pregnancies terminated due to Down syndrome diagnosis 'remain low'
Leading obstetrician says most women do not perform test
The number of pregnancies terminated because of a Down syndrome diagnosis is still very low, the chairman of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said yesterday.
Dr Peter Boylan, who is calling for a Yes vote in the referendum, said the "absolute numbers" of terminations are low, as most pregnant women do not have any pre-natal test to find out if their baby has Down syndrome.
He was commenting after figures obtained by the Irish Independent found more than half of pregnant women in the three Dublin maternity hospitals, who have a diagnostic test after 12 to 13 weeks' gestation, and are informed their baby will have Down syndrome, are going to the UK for an abortion.
In 2016 there were 21 women given this diagnosis in the Coombe Maternity Hospital and 14 had a termination. In the Rotunda, 26 women received the same pre-natal diagnosis and 57pc had a termination. The figure for the National Maternity Hospital is around 50pc.
These women would have undergone a diagnostic test such as amniocentisis.
Dr Boylan said it was important to stress that proposed legislation to widen the grounds for abortion did not include any plan to allow for termination of pregnancy on the grounds of Down syndrome.
Asked if he was surprised at the decision of parents to take this course he said: "Everyone has their own particular reasons which I would not be party to."
He pointed out it was not possible to get a diagnosis of Down syndrome within 12 weeks of pregnancy, the proposed cut-off point for unrestricted access to abortion proposed by the Government in the event of the referendum being passed.
A woman can get a screening test within 12 weeks of pregnancy, which can indicate a probability the baby will have Down syndrome, but this was rarely available before 12 weeks.
Dr Boylan said if the screening test was carried out too early in the pregnancy it must be repeated.
However, Dr Frances Neenan - a paediatrician in Portiuncula Hospital in Galway - said yesterday that screening tests for Down syndrome are currently offered by Irish providers from nine weeks.
"A quick search on internet forums reveals that women can get results from these tests after only four to five working days or indeed earlier by telephone," she said.
"Some Irish web-based services now offer home-testing from week 10, promising results within five working days of receipt of samples .
"Irish facilities also offer results from the subsequent diagnostic invasive pre-natal testing, for example chorionic villus sampling, within 72 hours."
Dr Neenan said that it was "clear both a strong indication of chromosomal abnormality and subsequent diagnostic confirmation can even now be achieved within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
"Of course, given these timelines, with removal of the Eighth Amendment it will be possible for people to end the life of unborn children, even if the evidence for abnormality is not entirely conclusive."