Image: Don’t Screen Us Out


Revised abortion statistics show 50% increase in abortion for Down’s Syndrome over last ten years


People with Down’s syndrome, their families and advocacy groups are concerned that the revised abortion statistics released by the Department of Health in England and Wales this week show a higher number of abortions for Down’s syndrome occurred in 2017 than was originally reported.


The revised statistics show that there were 655 abortions for Down’s syndrome in 2017 rather than the 632 that was originally reported in June. This now brings it to a 50% increase in abortion for Down’s syndrome in the last ten years with figures rising from 437 in 2007.


This is likely to be attributed to the private availability of cfDNA testing (otherwise known as NIPT) which has already been predicted to increase the numbers of children with Down’s syndrome being screened out by termination. The beginning of the roll-out of these tests on the NHS, who are already recommending the private tests to expectant mothers, may also be having an impact on the numbers of terminations.


This situation is set to get far worse as the Government still intends to move ahead with proposals to implement cfDNA testing into the Fetal Anomaly Screening Programme.


Proponents of the test have glossed over the fact that a National Screening Committee pilot study predicts the new screening will detect 102 more babies with Down’s syndrome every year. Based on the current 90% of pregnancies that are aborted after the baby is found to have Down’s syndrome, this would mean an increase of 92 abortions for Down’s syndrome annually.


That reduction equates to an overall decline of Down’s syndrome live births by 13% and would lead to a corresponding reduction in the number of people with the condition in the UK. Such an outcome is likely to have a profoundly negative impact on the community of people with Down’s Syndrome.


The Don’t Screen Us Out campaign, a coalition of Down’s syndrome advocacy groups, are urging Matt Hancock to delay the implementation of the new test until there has been full consultation with the community of people with Down’s syndrome and medical reforms have been introduced which address the unresolved ethical issues of screening.


Lynn Murray, spokeswoman for the Don’t Screen Us Out campaign said:

“As a mother of an 18 year old daughter who has Down’s syndrome, it is deeply concerning to see that the number of abortions for Down’s syndrome has again increased by 50% over the last ten years. Sadly this is the tip of the iceberg – if the Government follows through on proposals to make these tests available on the NHS, their own projections show that there will be a steep increase in the numbers of children with Down’s syndrome screened out by termination.


“We are also concerned about the impact that a change to abortion legislation in Northern Ireland would have on the population of people with Down’s syndrome in the region. As Lord Shinkwin said in Parliament earlier this year, Northern Ireland is currently the safest place in the UK to be diagnosed with Down’s syndrome before birth.


“In England and Wales 90% of babies diagnosed with Down’s syndrome are aborted. Northern Ireland currently has a very different approach when a baby is found to have Down’s syndrome. Disability-selective abortion for Down’s syndrome is illegal and there is a culture of accepting and supporting people with disabilities rather than eliminating them. This is reflected directly in recent official figures showing that almost 100% of babies found to have Down’s syndrome in Northern Ireland are born. This greatly contrasts with the 90% termination rate for Down’s syndrome from other parts of the UK.”