Selective terminations of babies with Down syndrome have not risen by 35% in three years

piece in the UK Mail on Sunday claims Department of Health statistics show “women choosing to abort babies with Down’s syndrome and other serious disabilities soars 34% in three years” and that “the biggest proportion was linked to Down’s syndrome, with 693 terminations last year compared with 512 in 2011”. Data collected by the National Down Syndrome Cytogenetic Register (NDSCR) shows this is not the case.

UPDATE (15 June): Amended to correct dates. Mail article refers to 2014 Department of Health data, while NDSCR has only reported to 2013. It remains the case that (a) NDSCR data reports 2% drop between 2011 and 2013 – which is not consistent with 35% rise over 3 years, and (b) DoH abortion statistics since 2011 consistently differ from NDSCR data. More here.

There is a remarkable headline in The Mail on Sunday today claiming terminations of babies with Down syndrome have “soared 34% in three years”. It quotes “an investigation into figures published by the Department of Health”.

In England and Wales, there is a national registry collecting data on prenatal and postnatal diagnoses. Their data (collected since 1989) is widely cited in academic studies and is 94% complete. I’m not sure where the Mail on Sunday (and perhaps more worryingly, the Department of Health) are sourcing their information, but it is way off.

The article claims there were 512 terminations of pregnancies diagnosed with Down syndrome in 2011 and 693 in 2014 – a rise of 181 (35%).

NDSCR reports 1,134 terminations of pregnancies diagnosed with Down syndrome in 2011 and 1,018 in 2013 – a fall of 2% over two years. NDSCR has not yet reported on 2014.

This graph shows the number of terminations of pregnancies diagnosed with Down syndrome (columns) and terminations as a percentage of all diagnosed cases (prenatal and postnatal).

down-syndrome-terminations-england-wales-2004-2013

(Note: The % terminated statistic is not the reduction rate – i.e. the rate at which live births are reduced as a result of screening and selective terminations. This is because approximately 23% of the terminated pregnancies would not have resulted in a live birth.)

5 thoughts on “Selective terminations of babies with Down syndrome have not risen by 35% in three years

  1. That’s quite interesting and confusing. The Mail artcile is very specific with it’s numbers: “Of the difference of 800 abortions, the biggest proportion was linked to Down’s syndrome, with 693 terminations last year compared with 512 in 2011”. That’s a 35% increase. I recall that the Parliamentary inquiry established errors and under reporting selective abortions for DS? Anyway, as they are saying, they need NIPT in the national screening program because some children are getting through the screening net.

    1. Yes, that is the argument, but they are wrong to suggest rising terminations due to private purchase of NIPS as justification for free NHS provision – as reliable data does not (yet?) support that conclusion. The DoH data collects legal justification for abortion. My guess is doctors often record mother’s wellbeing rather than diagnosis as primary reason, thus consistent underreporting vs NDSCR (which tracks pregnancy outcome following prenatal diagnosis with 94% completeness).

  2. I agree, I think the figures perhaps reflect all Ground E abortion and not just those attributed to Down’s syndrome. Also, as we know, abortions are put down to social issues and so I guess it’s always foggy. The Sun article on Saturday quoted over 1000 termination last year, so there really needs to be more transparency and clarity, and of course unbiased support. I thought the quotes in the piece were very telling. Sobering reading indeed.

Comments are closed.