According to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, blood tests performed on a pregnant woman as early as seven weeks into the pregnancy could be 95% accurate in determining whether the baby is a boy or a girl. Couples typically find out the sex of their baby from an ultrasound performed between 18 and 20 weeks.
This technology could be ideal for families in determining whether or not a baby is at risk of developing rare genetic diseases, but is still controversial because there are concerns this could allow people to misuse the information and abort a fetus based on the sex.
The blood tests detect cell-free DNA from the fetus, which float freely in a pregnant woman’s bloodstream. These cells help detect rare genetic disorders that are frequently found in boys, such as certain types of muscular dystrophy and hemophilia. Couples who already have one child with the disorder often benefit from this information, and knowing this early in a pregnancy can help them prepare for additional tests that may be necessary.
These early sex tests are routinely performed in the United Kingdom, Netherlands, Spain and France, and there are even companies that market them on the Internet. They are rarely offered in U.S. hospitals, but as they become more popular around the world, they may become regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.
There are many ethical concerns involved with offering these tests, due to high numbers of abortions performed in certain cultures due to the sex of a baby. In India, female fetuses are commonly aborted, with as many as 12.1 million female fetuses selectively aborted in India between 1980 and 2010. This practice is noticeably impacting the representation of males versus females in the country – one reason why many doctors are hesitant to perform the procedure. While many couples around the world would not consider aborting a fetus as late as 18 to 20 weeks into the pregnancy, 7 weeks is still considered to be an acceptable time frame for many.
Should these tests be offered in the United States? If doctors are hesitant to offer it due to the risk of increased abortions, is that a legitimate concern or should they let families make that decision for themselves?