The Risks of Fetal Birth Defects

Author: A.L.L.


American Life League

If we compare a severely defective human infant with a dog or a pig ... we will often find the nonhuman to have superior capacities ... Only the fact that the defective infant is a member of the species Homo sapiens leads it to be treated differently from the dog or pig. But species membership alone is not relevant ... If we can put aside the obsolete and erroneous notion of the sanctity of all human life, we may start to look at human life as it really is: At the quality of life that each human being has or can attain.

                                                                                        'Bioethicist' Peter Singer.[1]

Anti-Life Philosophy.

Abortion must remain an option for those women who have discovered, through prenatal testing, that their fetuses are congenitally malformed. These children would have an extremely low degree of quality of life and would be a great psychological burden on the mothers and families, in addition to being a drain on scarce societal resources.

It is especially important to keep this option open for pregnant women who are 35 or older, because the risks of fetal defects are greatly increased at this age.

One of the Wedges.

Legal abortion would decrease the tragedy of the birth of deformed children.

                                                                  National Abortion Rights Action League.[2]

Scare Tactics.

Pro-abortionists commonly use the chilling specter of grossly malformed infants in their propaganda campaign to keep abortion legal. Naturally, they concentrate exclusively on the extreme 'hard cases' babies with anencephaly, multiple gross physical malformations, Trisomy-21, and the most severe imaginable cases of Down Syndrome.

They commonly use the argument that such babies have such a low "quality of life" that they would not have a 'meaningful existence.' What they really mean, of course, is that caring for such a baby would decrease their quality of life and the meaningfulness of their existences.

The threat of severe fetal birth defects, of course, was one of the three primary wedges, or "hard cases" used to obtain abortion on demand in this country (the other two were rape/incest and extreme threats to the mother's physical "health," which are described in Chapters 79 and 51, respectively).

Highlighting Glaring Pro-Abortion Hypocrisy.

The hypocrisy of the pro-death position regarding handicapped unborn babies is absolutely breathtaking and should be highlighted at every opportunity.

The pro-aborts will fight for more handicapped parking slots at supermarkets, but stand silently by while handicapped newborns are starved to death in nurseries all over this country.

The pro-aborts set up shelters for battered and abused women, but approve of and facilitate sex-selection abortions that are directed almost exclusively towards exterminating those preborn children whose birth defect is that they are female.

And they have sign-language experts translate all speeches at pro-abortion rallies purportedly for the benefit of those who are deaf (but actually to give themselves a nice, caring image), while they simultaneously fight to kill all preborns who are handicapped in the slightest.

Pro-abortionists have many curious blind spots, but their attitude towards handicapped preborns is perhaps the strangest. When preborns and even newborns are eliminated solely because of their handicaps, when all other factors are equal, the pro-aborts do not see this as discrimination based upon disability (i.e., abortion of the 'differently-abled' based entirely upon their handicap(s)).

The Finkbine Case.

The abortion issue was first defined for many Americans by the intense publicity surrounding the Sherri Finkbine case.

Finkbine, the mother of four, hosted the "Romper Room" television series in Scottsdale, Arizona in the early 1960s. Her stage name was 'Miss Sherri.'

Her husband brought her some samples of the tranquilizer thalidomide which she ingested; she then heard about the fact that many pregnant women who had taken the drug had given birth to babies with missing limbs. At about the same time, she found out that she was pregnant.

She began to fear that her preborn baby would be deformed, and made her situation public. Local courts upheld State anti-abortion laws and said that she could not have the abortion done in a Scottsdale hospital.

So she traveled to Stockholm to have her baby exterminated. Pro-abortion activists of Finkbine's era meticulously exploited her situation with a huge splash of publicity, just as they would exploit other women in other difficult situations decades later (for other examples of pro-abortion propaganda campaigns based upon the suffering of women, see Chapter 17 of Volume I, "Anti-Life Propaganda." Finkbine revealed the obvious reason for the carefully-staged media blitz: "Then, too, I hope that our case serves as a catalyst of sorts for abortion reform in our country."[3]

Finkbine has been a pro-abortion crusader ever since, saying in 1992 that "This [question of abortion] shouldn't be an issue in the political arena. When a woman has to make this kind of decision, she should see her doctor, not her lawyer."[4]

The thought of possibly having a "deformed child" obviously revolted Finkbine. She stated that she did not want a child who "... sits in the park and has people give him peanuts and things. Had it not been for the abortion, I would have taken care of the four children I had, and the head and torso [referring to her baby]."[4]

Despite projecting a motherly, caring image to thousands of people on "Romper Room," Finkbine, by her actions, essentially told the public that she could really only relate to perfectly healthy White babies. Any child with any kind of handicap should not come near her, as evidenced by her cruel labeling of a handicapped child as a "head and torso."

Her claim that her preborn baby was deformed was naturally never verified by any reliable sources.

Killing As Usual.

As always, the abortionists ignored the law if it did not exactly coincide with their beliefs and practices.

For example, New York State suffered the last widespread rubella (German measles) epidemic in 1964. Abortion was illegal in the state at the time even for birth defects but thousands of women who merely thought that they might have been exposed to the virus got abortions with the eager complicity of the doctors. Dr. Bernard Nathanson stated that "We personally did at least one hundred such abortions, secure in the knowledge that we would not be prosecuted since abortion was already in the process of being socially legitimized."[5]

Flaws in the Eugenics Justification.

My father was a Jewish physician in Braunau, Austria. One day only two babies were born at the local hospital. The parents of the healthy boy were proud and happy. The other was a girl. Her parents were extremely sad. She was a mongoloid child. I followed their lives for 50 years. The girl remained at home and, even though retarded, was the sole support of the mother after a stroke. I no longer even remember her name. But I will never forget the boy's name. He died in a bunker in Berlin. His name was Adolf Hitler.

American physician telling his story to Jerome Lejeune, M.D., Ph.D., the discoverer of the Down Syndrome gene.[6]

The Basic Objection.

History is replete with examples of forced contraception, abortion, euthanasia and even genocide, all committed in the name of "purifying the race." History also shows us what results from such programs. They always begin as the 'provision of a service.' They are always examined closely and pronounced to be 'beneficial to society.'

And, inevitably, they become so 'beneficial to society' that they must be made compulsory.

There are a number of very strong and logical objections to the specific practice of abortion for eugenics, as described in the following paragraphs.

Denying the Will of God.

To begin with, God opens and shuts the womb, and God decides how many children (and what kind of children) we will have. Before the United States became a pagan nation, people used to accept the birth of a handicapped child as the will of God.

Unfortunately, our nation has lately been afflicted with the attitude that asserts "If it can be done, it must be done." We can now 'override' God's plan with contraception, sterilization, and abortion whenever we please. Selecting the quality of our children is merely an outgrowth of this attitude. By sparing ourselves the difficulties of raising a 'special' child, we are spurning God's will for us and are acting in our own interests, not the child's.

Only God knows what blessings these never-to-be-born handicapped babies would have brought into this world. In fact, those not born may have even saved the world at some point in the future, because, if our society becomes callous enough in its attitudes towards those with handicaps, we will inevitably look upon others who are not identical to ourselves as somehow 'expendable.'

And we all know what happens after that.

The Nazi Mentality.

Secondly, the killing of children simply because they do not measure up to our standards is chillingly reminiscent of a movement dedicated towards achieving Margaret Sanger's "race of thoroughbreds." The Nazi eugenics program (whose philosophy was developed in the United States, as described in Chapter 53, "Holocaust Analogy to Abortion") was nothing more than this utilitarian attitude transformed into concrete action.

Whether the State kills 750,000 retarded citizens, or a husband and wife kill their less-than-perfect preborn baby, the philosophy, motivation, and results are the same.

The philosophy is that there is 'life not worth living.'

The motivation is to eliminate those who are 'burdensome' and who are not 'cost-effective.'

The result is not only the deaths of the handicapped, but the deaths of consciences as well.

In other words, whoever pushes abortion for birth defects has a mentality that can be uniquely identified as classically Nazi-like. This is not stereotyping or slander or name-calling; it is an easily-proven and logical conclusion.

For more information on the Nazi mentality, see Chapter 2 of Volume I, "The Anti-Life Mentality," Chapter 53, "The Holocaust Analogy to Abortion," and Chapter 105 of Volume III, "Eugenics."

Babies to Order.

As with all evils, abortion for eugenics is leading to a plethora of abuses that were unimaginable only a decade ago.

Americans are oriented towards obtaining the best of everything, and this includes the 'gender-balanced' family exactly one perfect boy and one perfect girl. In pursuit of this ideal, we have thousands of sex-selection abortions per year; we have sperm banks where women commit a kind of high-tech adultery by selecting the father they would like their child to have; we have fetal organ harvesting and experimentation; and we have infanticide, the purposeful neglect and outright killing of 2,000 to 5,000 babies annually who have correctable defects such as spina bifida.

With the assistance of amoral 'bioethicists' like James Watson and Peter Singer, we are dreaming of parthenogenesis, cloning, artificial uteri, chimeras (human-animal combinations), and the elimination of all genetic defects (a physical impossibility).

The 'bioethicists' and dreamers, for all of their academic degrees and artificial fame, do not seem able to learn this common-sense lesson: when you treat man as just another animal, he fulfills this destiny by becoming just another animal, because he will eventually lose his soul.

Overrating the Risks.

Talk about breeding out genetic diseases is a lot of nonsense. Seriously affected persons are unlikely to marry and have children; the genes are passed along by carriers. For instance, there are 40 carriers for every person with sickle cell anemia. If every victim of this disease were eliminated, it would require 750 years just to cut the incidence in half; to stamp it out altogether would require 200,000 abortions for every 500,000 couples. Because each 'normal' person is the carrier of three or four bad genes, the only way to eliminate genetic diseases would be to sterilize or abort everybody.

Hymie Gordon, M.D., Chairman, Department of Medical Genetics, The Mayo Clinic.[7]

Role of the Media and Medicos.

The pro-abortionists and the media (with their propaganda), in conjunction with the medical community (with its advocacy and silence) have convinced the public that birth defects are rampant in certain classes of women. One of the 'hard cases' most commonly trotted out by the pro-aborts involves a 45-year old woman pregnant with a (naturally defective) fetus.

A Survey of Public Perceptions.

How common are birth defects after the age of 35? The Portland, Oregon-based pro-life group Advocates for Life Ministries conducted a random telephone survey in 1989 regarding, among other things, the public's perceived rate of serious fetal birth defects in women of age 40. The responses reflected the natural tendency of the public to overrate the probability of rare but disastrous consequence. The respondents to the survey believed that the probability of severe birth defects in children born to women aged forty and over averaged 47 percent!

In other words, the average person believes that nearly half of all babies borne by women after the age of 40 have serious birth defects.

The medical community does not help clear up this severe degree of misunderstanding by automatically classifying all pregnant women over the age of 35 as 'high risk.'

The Real Risks.

Risks by Defect and Maternal Age.

The actual risks of specific major birth defects are shown in Figure 38-1, and the overall risks of major birth defects, as a function of maternal age, are shown in Figure 38-2.


[A medium text size on your computer's 'view' setting is recommended, otherwise, the tables may be discombobulated.]

Genetic                                                                         Test
Abnormality         Possible Effects        Risk            Accuracy            Treatment

Alpha anti-             Liver cirrhosis,            1/1,800           90%                 None
   trypsin                 pulmonary emphysema,
   enzyme               degenerative lung
   deficiency           disease
Alpha                    Severe anemia;            1/10,000         90%                 Transfusions
   thalassemia         death before two
Beta                      Severe anemia;            1/10,000         95%                 Transfusions
   thalassemia          death by 25
   (Cooley's anemia)
Cystic                    Mucus in lungs;            1/3,500          88%                  Physical
   fibrosis                death by 20                                                                   therapy
Down Syndrome    Minor to severe           1/600             99%                  None
                              mental retardation
Duchenne's             Muscle weakness;      1/14,000         95%                  None
   muscular              minor menta
   dystrophy            retardation;
                              respiratory failure
                              by age 25
Fragile "X"              Retardation; autism;     1/1,600         95%                  None
   Syndrome            hyperactivity
Hemophilia             Excessive bleeding;      1/65,000       95%                  Transfusions
   (males)                arthritis
Anencephaly           Absence of brain         1/1,000         99%                 None
Spina bifida            Unclosed spinal cord;  1/1,000         Varies               Shunt
                              often hydrocephalus
Polycystic               Enlarged kidneys;        1/1,000        95%                 Transplant
   kidney                  heart failure
Sex chromosome     Minor to severe          1/500            99%                 Hormones
   abnormality           learning disability
Sickle cell                Deformed, fragile        1/500            95%                 Painkillers,
   anemia                  red blood cells;                                                        antibiotics
                               pain, infections,
                               ulcers, strokes
Tay-Sachs               Brain and nerve         1/230,000     99%                  None
   disease                degeneration;
                               death by age five
Trisomy 13              Severe retardation;    1/20,000       99%                  None
   (Patau                  organ defects fatal
   Syndrome)           soon after birth
Trisomy 18              Severe retardation;     1/8,000        99%                  None
   (Edwards              heart defects;
   Syndrome)            fatal soon after birth


Reference: Hippocrates Magazine, May/June 1988, pages 68 and 69.


Mother's     Risk of                      Total Risk of Severe          Healthy
Age           Down Syndrome          Genetic Abnormality          Babies

15             0.04% (1 out of 2,500)    0.12% (1 out of 833)           99.88%
16             0.04% (1 out of 2,500)    0.12% (1 out of 833)           99.88%
17             0.04% (1 out of 2,500)    0.13% (1 out of 769)           99.87%
18             0.04% (1 out of 2,500)    0.13% (1 out of 769)           99.87%
19             0.04% (1 out of 2,500)    0.14% (1 out of 714)           99.86%
20             0.05% (1 out of 2,000)    0.14% (1 out of 714)           99.86%
21             0.05% (1 out of 2,000)    0.15% (1 out of 667)           99.85%
22             0.05% (1 out of 2,000)    0.16% (1 out of 625)           99.84%
23             0.06% (1 out of 1,667)    0.17% (1 out of 588)           99.83%
24             0.06% (1 out of 1,667)    0.18% (1 out of 556)           99.82%
25             0.07% (1 out of 1,429)    0.19% (1 out of 526)           99.81%
26             0.07% (1 out of 1,429)    0.20% (1 out of 500)           99.80%
27             0.08% (1 out of 1,250)    0.22% (1 out of 455)           99.78%
28             0.09% (1 out of 1,111)    0.23% (1 out of 435)           99.77%
29             0.10% (1 out of 1,000)    0.25% (1 out of 400)           99.75%
30             0.11% (1 out of 909)       0.27% (1 out of 370)           99.73%
31             0.13% (1 out of 769)       0.30% (1 out of 333)           99.70%
32             0.16% (1 out of 625)       0.35% (1 out of 286)           99.65%
33             0.19% (1 out of 526)       0.40% (1 out of 250)           99.60%
34             0.23% (1 out of 435)       0.47% (1 out of 213)           99.53%
35             0.28% (1 out of 357)       0.54% (1 out of 185)           99.46%
36             0.31% (1 out of 323)       0.59% (1 out of 169)           99.41%
37             0.34% (1 out of 294)       0.64% (1 out of 156)           99.36%
38             0.37% (1 out of 270)       0.69% (1 out of 145)           99.31%
39             0.41% (1 out of 244)       0.75% (1 out of 133)           99.25%
40             0.45% (1 out of 222)       0.81% (1 out of 123)           99.19%
41             0.50% (1 out of 200)       0.88% (1 out of 114)           99.12%
42             0.55% (1 out of 182)       0.96% (1 out of 104)           99.04%
43             0.61% (1 out of 164)       1.03% (1 out of 97)             98.97%
44             0.71% (1 out of 141)       1.15% (1 out of 87)             98.85%
45             0.84% (1 out of 119)       1.30% (1 out of 77)             98.70%
46             0.99% (1 out of 101)       1.50% (1 out of 67)             98.50%
47             1.18% (1 out of 85)         1.73% (1 out of 58)             98.27%
48             1.39% (1 out of 72)         2.01% (1 out of 50)             97.99%
49             1.65% (1 out of 61)         2.36% (1 out of 42)             97.64%
50             1.95% (1 out of 51)         2.81% (1 out of 36)             97.19%

Reference: Hymie Gordon, M.D., Chairman, Department of Medical Genetics at the Mayo Clinic.

These figures show that, for a woman of 40, the risk of a serious fetal birth defect is less than one half of one percent not the 50 percent perceived by the public!

In fact, in those unusual cases where women of age 50 become pregnant, the risk of serious birth defects is less than three percent!

Results of Statistical Tabulations.

The extremely low percentage of birth defects shown in Figures 38-1 and 38-2 are confirmed by a number of surveys performed both in this country and in other nations. These studies were based upon legally-mandated recordkeeping by abortion clinics as described below.

The Louisiana Study.

In the state of Louisiana, abortionists must complete a form entitled "Report of Induced Termination of Pregnancy" (Form #PHS 16-ab) for every abortion performed. The form notes at the top that "Failure to complete and file this form is a crime," so compliance tends to be very good.

The Office of Public Health of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals collects and analyzes these statistics. Over the 14-year period 1975 to 1988, 202,135 abortions were performed in the state of Louisiana. Of these, justification was listed for 115,243 of them under Item 9d, "Reason for Pregnancy Termination." The reasons for these abortions are listed below;


Reason for Abortions                                      Percent

Mother's mental health                         114,231 (99.12%)
Mother's physical health                              863 (0.75%)
FETAL DEFORMITY                               103 (0.09%)
Rape or incest                                              46 (0.04%)

This means that one out of every 1,109 abortions performed in Louisiana was for fetal deformities.

The United Kingdom Study.

There were 358,074 abortions reported in the United Kingdom for the years 1987 and 1988. Of these, a total of 2,448 were performed for "substantial risk of the child being born seriously handicapped."[8]

This is a total of 0.68% (two-thirds of one percent), or abortion in 146.

References: Risks of Birth Defects.

[1] Peter Singer. "Sanctity of Life or Quality of Life?" Pediatrics, July 1983.

[2] Looseleaf booklet entitled "Organizing for Action." Prepared by Vicki Z. Kaplan for the National Abortion Rights Action League, 250 West 57th Street, New York, N.Y. 10019. 51 pages, no date.

[3] Sherri Finkbine, quoted in Alan Guttmacher, M.D. The Case for Legalized Abortion Now. Berkeley: Diablo Press, 1967. Pages 24 and 25.

[4] Dennis McDougal, Los Angeles Times-Washington Post Service. "Emotionally Charged Abortion Issue Told in 'Sherri'." TV Click, The Sunday Oregonian, February 9, 1992, page 26.

[5] Dr. Bernard Nathanson. Bernadell Technical Bulletin. January 1990, page 3.

[6] An American physician telling his story to Jerome Lejeune, M.D., Ph.D., the discoverer of the Down Syndrome gene. Quoted in Carolyn F. Gerster, M.D. "From the President's Desk." National Right to Life News, November 1979, page 11.

[7] Hymie Gordon, M.D. Chairman, Department of Medical Genetics, Mayo Clinic. Quoted in Denyse Handler. "More From Hymie Gordon on Genetics." National Right to Life News, July 1978, page 6.

[8] D.B. Paintin, M.D., Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, St. Mary's Hospital Medical School, London, England. "Late Abortions." The Lancet, November 11, 1989. No. 8672:1158.

Further Reading: Risks of Birth Defects.

Pregnancy in the Older Woman: January 1983 Through December 1987. 
Contains 327 citations covering Cesarian section, contraception, Down Syndrome, infertility, placental complications, prenatal diagnosis, and maternal, infant, and perinatal mortality. Serial Number 817-004-00001-6, 1988, 21 pages. Order by mail from Superintendent of Documents, United States Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, or by telephone from (202) 783-3238.

© American Life League BBS - 1-703-659-7111

This is a chapter of the Pro-Life Activist's Encyclopedia published by American Life League.