This morning, GOP Presidential front-runner Rick Santorum expanded the right’s war on women into a war on families. On Face the Nation, Santorum announced that he opposes paying for prenatal testing during pregnancy because, in his words, “the customary procedure is to encourage abortions” among fetuses found to be “disabled.”

Holy cow, where should we even start with that?

I’ve personally had two high-risk pregnancies thanks to what is affectionately referred to as my “advanced maternal age.” I underwent screening (not testing, I’ll explain the difference later) for genetic problems. Before you can even get the screening you have a very frank discussion with your doctor where you are told of the chance for false positives that can, if you choose, lead to more screening, and ultimately testing. If you decide to go forward, you are then required to meet with a genetic counselor, who explains the odds are against an abnormality, the risk from false positives and strongly advises that you can elect at any time not to go forward with more screening or testing. Never once did anyone in this process bring up, let alone, encourage abortion. It is absurd. These are medical professionals who dedicate their lives to bringing babies into the world. That is just not what they do.

But beyond the question of abortion, making this about disabled kids is either incredibly misguided, or a standard conservative trick of using deception and spin when facts aren’t on your side. Prenatal testing is about detection of a wide array of genetic conditions, the majority of which are fatal during pregnancy. Other conditions can benefit from surgery prior to birth. Only a handful result in babies that live, but have disabilities. Let’s start by dropping some science.

In a high-risk pregnancy, where there is a history of genetic abnormalities or in mothers over age 35, a mom can elect to receive preliminary screening, in which blood tests are combined with a high-resolution ultrasound around 10 to 12 weeks of gestation. When results of this screening show a higher than average risk of abnormalities, a woman may elect to undergo prenatal testing – amniocentesis or CVS – to collect genetic material from the fetus or placenta. The tests can, themselves, cause miscarriage, so it is not a decision taken lightly.

Prenatal tests detect, among other things, abnormalities known as aneuploidies, in which an incorrect number of chromosomes are present. The vast majority of these situations are always fatal before or just after birth. Of those that are not, only four types — Trisomies 13, 18, 21 and those involving the sex chromosome – can result in babies that can live for up to a year or more. And only Trisomy 21 (Down’s Syndrome) results in anything resembling a normal life. Rick Santorum’s daughter, Bella, has Trisomy 18 and at age 3, has a number of serious health conditions, but thanks to receiving the best medical care available, has outlived the vast majority of kids with her condition.

In these cases, shouldn’t parents be given time to prepare for bringing home a special needs (disabled) child? Shouldn’t doctors in the delivery room know a newborn may have serious medical conditions requiring an array of interventions to live?

But, on the flipside, that means there are 23 types of monosomies and 20 types of trisomies that result in miscarriage, stillbirth or babies that never leave the hospital. In these instances, we are not talking about disabled kids. These are moms and dads that will lose a pregnancy, or whose baby will die in the hours or days after birth. Shouldn’t they have a right to know? To seek the comfort of their family, their friends, their spiritual advisor? To have time to prepare the siblings at home?

Other genetic conditions can be caught by prenatal testing. If detected during pregnancy, in utero surgical procedures are now available that dramatically improve outcomes for kids with spina bifida. If your concern is for kids with disabilities, why take a huge step back and deny access to testing that can so dramatically improve the life of those with this condition?

And, let’s talk abortion. If you are pregnant and are told the fetus will never survive to a live birth, you and your doctor may want to talk about terminating the pregnancy rather than proceeding to a stillbirth. Pregnancy is a high-risk situation for some women. If the baby has zero chance of survival, should we also reduce mom’s chances needlessly?

But, let’s be honest. Do positive prenatal test results lead to abortions? Yes. Even in the case of Down’s Syndrome, it has been reported that 92 percent of pregnancies testing positive are terminated. I’m going to guess that number includes more than a few Republicans. If Rick Santorum becomes the nominee, he is going to campaign on taking away a choice that 92 percent of people faced with it ultimately make. Speaking politically for a second, that may not be a winner for him.

My bottom line is this – if medical science provides us with a tool that can reduce the number of stillbirths, catch and repair malformations caused by spina bifida, prepare delivery room staff for newborns with serious medical needs and prepare families for a heartbreaking loss or a child with special needs, why would we as a society want to throw that away and return to the dark ages? This is a question we should be asking anyone who endorses Santorum for President, and something for you to consider if you or your loved ones are planning to have children.

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