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The GOP’s Next Target? Prenatal Tests

The cruelty is the point

Pregnant woman receiving an ultrasound.,FDA

For monthsI’ve been tracking the anti-abortion movement’s quiet campaign to force women to carry nonviable pregnancies to term. Their plan includes changing legislation and medical guidelines, forcing doctors to lie to women about their pregnancies, and requiring that women meet with anti-abortion “counselors” before ending a doomed pregnancy.

These days, though, I’m keeping a close eye on another part of that broader strategy: attacks on prenatal testing. And this piece from Associated Press is a good reminder of why, exactly, conservatives are going after women’s ability to find out as much as possible about their pregnancies.

The AP piece looks at how important prenatal testing has become in post-Roe America, and how women—especially those in states with bans—are increasingly relying on early testing. Doctors say more and more patients are asking for early ultrasounds and more genetic screenings; the hope, obviously, is to catch any issues as quickly as possible.

The article gets into the various kinds of prenatal testing and ultrasounds that patients receive—and the massive problem of timing. Many of these tests aren’t done until after some states’ legal limit for abortion care. With ultrasounds, for example, you can’t see details of the fetus until a certain, later, point in pregnancy. Still, patients are asking for those ultrasounds at 10 to 13 weeks so they can have abortions under the wire if necessary.

The other issue is that genetic testing results can sometimes take weeks to come back—that’s time that patients don’t have when they live in a state with an abortion ban. North Carolina OBGYN Dr. Clayton Alfonso said, “More people are trying to find these things out earlier to try to fit within the confines of laws that in my mind don’t have a place in medical practice.”

The anti-abortion movement knew that all of this would happen after Roe was overturned—they knew that women would be desperate to get prenatal tests, and that the timing would be a big issue. That’s why prenatal testing is such a huge part of their campaign.

The short version is that the anti-abortion movement simply doesn’t want women to know what’s going on with their pregnancies. They’re ready to “counsel” those who get devastating diagnoses, but it’s even better for them if a pregnant person never finds out that there’s a problem to begin with.

That’s why anti-abortion activists are ramping up claims that prenatal tests are inaccurate, that the “testing industry” is corrupt, and that women need to be protected from genetic tests and ultrasounds. As such, their plan includes a few tactics:

  • Passing legislation that would require doctors to tell patients that “no test is 100% accurate” or that they might be ending a healthy pregnancy. (The cruelty is the point.)

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  • Requiring that hospitals direct patients who are given fatal fetal diagnoses to anti-abortion “prenatal counselors” and groups, who will then give those patients fake or misleading information about the reliability of prenatal testing.

  • Spreading scare-tactics about prenatal tests to shame women out of taking them, using the language of “informed consent.” The idea is to dissuade patients who have gotten initial test results (like from bloodwork) from further testing. They’ll highlight the possible risk of miscarriage, and use language that suggests ‘responsible’ parents would never agree to tests like an amniocentesis.

In addition to all of these truly horrific policies, Republicans are also going to be pushing the FDA to reconsider the approval of some of prenatal tests. Mark my words. In the same way that they’ve been going after the FDA to repeal mifepristone approval, they are absolutely going to target prenatal tests.

Remember, it wasn’t so long ago that nearly 100 Republican lawmakers sent a letter to the FDA asking about the labeling requirements and regulatory measures around the tests. Sen. Steve Daines said, “It is unacceptable that the FDA is not conducting proper oversight on these inconsistent prenatal tests that often pressure women into making a life-ending decision for their baby.”

The Associated Press reports, in fact, that the FDA is going to be releasing a new regulatory framework this Spring around requirements for prenatal tests—so it’s something we’re going to have to keep a close eye on.

I’ve said it many times, but it’s worth repeating: make sure your legislators are on the lookout for Republican-proposed bills that contain language about prenatal tests and counseling, perinatal hospice care, or nonviable pregnancies. They’re banking on us not noticing—or being too afraid of taking on legislation they say is pro-women or pro-family. We can’t let that happen.

Jessica Valenti is a feminist writer, NYC native. 7 books, 1 kid & a lot of opinions.