Iceland is close to becoming the first country where no-one gives birth to a child with Down’s syndrome. Prenatal tests were introduced in the early 2000s, and the vast majority who receive a positive test have terminated their pregnancy.
While the tests are optional, all expectant mothers are informed about their availability, and up to 85 per cent choose to take it. It’s called the Combination Test and uses ultrasound and blood tests – as well as factoring in the mother’s age. The law in Iceland allows for abortion after 16 weeks if the foetus has a deformity, and Down’s syndrome is included in this category.
On average, just one or two children with Down’s syndrome are born in Iceland each year. Sometimes, this is as a result of an inaccurate test. “Babies with Down’s syndrome are still being born in Iceland,” Hulda Hjartardottir, head of the Prenatal Diagnosis Unit at Landspitali University Hospital, told CBS. “Some of them were low risk in our screening test, so we didn’t find them in our screening.” Helga Sol Olafsdottir counsels women who are considering ending their pregnancy over a foetal abnormality.
She says she tells mothers: “This is your life. You have the right to choose how your life will look like.” She told a reporter: “We don’t look at abortion as a murder. We look at it as a thing that we ended. “We ended a possible life that may have had a huge complication… preventing suffering for the child and for the family. And I think that is more right than seeing it as a murder — that’s so black and white.
“Life isn’t black and white. Life is grey.”
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