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‘Deeply concerning’ figures show a 50% rise in the number of Down’s syndrome abortions

‘Deeply concerning’ figures show a 50% rise in the number of Down’s syndrome abortions over the last decade as campaigners blame prenatal test set to be used by the NHS

  • A total of 655 babies were aborted last year because of Down’s syndrome
  • This is up from 437 in 2007, and campaigners think the figure will rise further 
  • Accurate, safe testing is set to be offered on the NHS to high-risk women
  • This could reduce the number of babies born with the condition by 13 per cent  

Abortions performed as a result of Down’s syndrome screening have risen by 50 per cent in England and Wales since 2007, figures show.

Government data reveals 655 babies were aborted last year because they had a high risk of developing Down’s syndrome, up from 437 in 2007.

Campaigners have blamed the private availability of prenatal NIPT tests which reveal a baby’s risk of the disorder on the rise in terminations. 

And they are concerned the number of people being born with the genetic condition could drop by 13 per cent when the NHS begins to use the test. 

Current tests for Down’s syndrome carry a small risk of miscarriage but campaigners worry access to safe, accurate testing will increase the number of abortions and shrink the Down’s syndrome community (stock image)

Don’t Screen Us Out fears an extra 92 babies with Down’s syndrome will be aborted every year when the test becomes publicly available.

Some 90 per cent of foetuses believed to have the condition caused by an extra chromosome are terminated. 

The NHS is set to begin offering NIPT tests next year to women known to have a Down’s syndrome risk higher than one in 150. 

Fewer people being born with Down’s syndrome would have a ‘profoundly negative impact’ on the community of people with it, the campaign group says.


Down’s syndrome is a genetic condition that typically causes some degree of learning disability and certain physical characteristics.

Symptoms include:

  • Floppiness at birth
  • Eyes that slant down and outwards
  • A small mouth 
  • A flat back of the head

Screening tests can uncover Down’s syndrome during pregnancy but are not completely accurate.

The condition is caused by an extra chromosome in a baby’s cell due to a genetic change in the sperm or egg.

The risk increases according to the age of the mother.

A 20-year-old woman has around a one in 1,500 chance of having a baby with Down’s syndrome.

Women in their 40s have a one in 100 chance.

There is no evidence women can reduce their risk.

Down’s syndrome does not have a cure, and treatment focuses on supporting the patient’s development. 

People with Down’s syndrome are more at risk of health complications such as heart disorders, hearing problems, thyroid issues and recurrent infections.

Source: NHS Choices

‘It is deeply concerning to see that the number of abortions for Down’s syndrome has again increased by 50 per cent over the last ten years,’ said Lynn Murray, spokesperson for Don’t Screen Us Out.

Ms Murray, who has an 18-year-old daughter of her own with Down’s syndrome, added: ‘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.’

Down’s syndrome causes varying levels of mental disability and and physical characteristics including slanted eyes and a flat back of the head.

All pregnant women are currently offered a screening test at 10 and 14 weeks which can show if a child is at high risk of the condition, but can’t confirm it.

NIPT testing, which is set to be used by the NHS for certain women, can detect Down’s syndrome with 99 per cent accuracy using only a sample of the mother’s blood.

And the test is non-invasive and risk-free, whereas current tests carry a small risk of miscarriage.  

Ms Murray added: ‘In England and Wales 90 per cent 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 per cent of babies found to have Down’s syndrome in Northern Ireland are born.

‘This greatly contrasts with the 90 per cent termination rate for Down’s syndrome from other parts of the UK.’