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96.5% of pregnant women who found abnormalities in new prenatal test aborted

A total of 334 of 346 pregnant women whose fetuses were found to have abnormalities during noninvasive prenatal testing (NIPT) over the three years following the test's introduction opted to have abortions, it has been learned.

    Altogether, 27,696 pregnant women took the test. It involves a simple blood test to determine whether their fetuses are healthy. The number of those undergoing the procedure appears to be on the rise, though some argue it amounts to discrimination with respect to human life.

    The NIPT Consortium -- a group of hospitals involved in carrying out the procedure -- calculated the figures among its 44 member institutions over the period through December last year.

    The testing covers a total of three health conditions: trisomy 21 (Down syndrome), as well as trisomy 18 and trisomy 13 -- the latter two of which can involve heart problems.

    The fetuses of a total of 469 individuals who underwent the procedure -- 1.7 percent of the total -- tested positive for at least one of the three conditions. When amniotic fluid testing was subsequently undertaken in order to confirm the diagnoses, 35 individuals were found to have fetuses with no abnormalities, while 73 went on to have either miscarriages or stillbirths. A number of additional cases also remained unaccounted for.

    Among the remaining 346 cases, 334 underwent abortions. Meanwhile, 12 opted to continue their pregnancies while being aware of the abnormalities.

    NIPT testing began in April 2013 for clinical research purposes at facilities that had been certified by the Japanese Association of Medical Sciences. Women aged 35 and over, as well as those who have already given birth to babies with chromosomal abnormalities are eligible for testing.

    The NIPT procedure can be conducted earlier than standard amniotic fluid testing, at around 10 weeks into pregnancy. It has also attracted attention due to the lack of miscarriage risk associated with amniocentesis.

    "We learned that the test has a greater level of accuracy than had previously been expected," notes Akihiko Sekizawa, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Showa University, who analyzed the data.

    "There is criticism around the continuation of the procedure as clinical testing with no firm objective in mind," he continued. "The present results will likely lead to discussions regarding a re-examination of the test (including the possibility of its official implementation)."

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