PHOENIX, ARIZ. — About one-quarter of a diverse group of pregnant women would not consider a pregnancy termination for a fetus with Down syndrome, according to a study presented at the annual meeting of the Pacific Coast Obstetrical and Gynecological Society.
The prospective study of 1,038 pregnant women who were participating in research at the University of California, San Francisco, department of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences showed that 24% said they would not consider a termination if testing showed the fetus had Down syndrome.
Among the 76% of women who said they would consider an abortion under such circumstances, half said they would do so only in the first trimester, 36% said they would do so only in the first or second trimester, and 14% said they would at any point in the pregnancy, said lead author Lee A. Learman, M.D., of the UCSF department.
The women were interviewed before 20 weeks' gestation and were of diverse socioeconomic backgrounds.
When asked about their attitudes regarding abortion in general, 23% said that they thought abortion should be available only in cases of rape or incest, and 8% said abortion should not be available under any circumstances.
Seventy-two percent of the women answered yes to the question of whether they would ever consider having an abortion, and 52% reported that they had had an abortion in the past.
With adjustment for various factors, women were more likely to consider an abortion if they were older, had a previous abortion, or expressed distrust in the health care system. Conversely, they were less likely to consider an abortion if they had at least two prior births, were married, were fatalistic about the outcome of their pregnancy, or were not white.
“The overarching goal of the project is to help understand the tradeoffs involved in screening and testing strategies and to help patients make decisions that are consistent with their personal values and feelings,” Dr. Learman said.
In a commentary on the study, Anita Nelson, M.D., medical director of Women's Health Care Programs at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance, Calif., brought up the possibility that patients' actions may not always be consistent with their declared beliefs. Dr. Learman agreed, saying his lab is working on research to track discrepancies between actions and beliefs.
Dr. Nelson added that efforts to better prepare women for the many possible outcomes of a pregnancy should also extend to the preconception period to prevent unrealistic expectations.
“When women expect perfect outcomes, we can find ourselves in a bit of a legal jam, and it's therefore important to lay on the table all the risks of pregnancy while all options are still open—including the option to not become pregnant,” she said during the meeting.