Fetal Sex Tests Prompt Selective Abortion Fears

Posted August 10, 2011 in Your Family & The Law by Arthur Buono

A non-prescription fetal test kit can accurately identify the gender of a seven-week-old fetus. That’s controversial because right-to-life advocates fear it may be used to enable gender-selection abortions. It seems at least as likely to enable important, lawful health decisions.

  • Over-the-counter test can predict sex of a seven-week fetus
  • Test raises fears it will lead to gender-selection abortions
  • Test can also help with screening for genetic/hereditary diseases/disorders
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Gender-Selection Abortions Illegal in Some States


First, I’d guess ethicists would frown upon gender-selection abortions, though this is a bit beyond the legal issues. A few states have expressly outlawed gender-selection abortions (race-selection too, although it’s still not clear to me what that even could be) as part of strict anti-abortion laws. Some of these test kits are sold only if the purchaser agrees not to use them for this purpose. Otherwise there’s nothing stopping it.

There are other, medically legitimate and perfectly lawful reasons to know the gender of a fetus at that age. For example, the results of this test may dictate additional tests to screen for genetic diseases and disorders. That in turn could dictate a certain course of prenatal care – or a decision to abort an affected fetus. It might help with the dilemma of "savior siblings" too.

Some other things to know about the tests:

  • They’re not regulated by the FDA because they’re not drugs or medical procedures
  • Doctors have not recommended them much because their accuracy wasn’t established scientifically
  • They’re safe for both mother and fetus, because (unlike amniocentesis) they’re non-invasive
  • They’re not sold in countries where gender-selection may be a cultural practice

It’s certainly debatable whether it’s "right" to terminate pregnancy of an at-risk fetus, or whether it’s "right" to allow birth of a child with known, serious defects. The law recognizes liability for "wrongful birth." The pace of advances in genetics means where to draw the line between this and what are called "designer babies" – or if a legal line should be drawn at all – are questions for this generation.

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BabyPhone Deluxe – turn your device into a baby monitor. $3.99-$5.99
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