Iceland might soon become the first country where there are no children born with Down’s syndrome. On average, only one or two kids with Down’s are born in the country yearly.
This success rate is attributed to the Combination Test, a set of pre-natal tests introduced in the 2000s, Independent reports. The test is optional, and all expectant mothers are told about its availability. Up to 85% of women choose to take the ultrasounds and blood tests that inform a mother-to-be of the possibility of the chromosome abnormality that commonly leads to Down’s syndrome. The majority of moms who get positive results for Down’s have chosen to terminate their pregnancies.
Abortion laws in Iceland allow for termination after 16 weeks if the fetus has a deformity, which includes Down’s syndrome. Hulda Hjartardottir, head of the Prenatal Diagnosis Unit at Landspitali University Hospital, said,
Babies with Down’s syndrome are still being born in Iceland. Some of them were low risk in our screening test, so we didn’t find them in our screening.
Helga Sol Olafsdottir, who counsels women who are thinking about ending a pregnancy because of a fetal abnormality, says she tells them, “This is your life. You have the right to choose how your life will look like.” She told CBS, “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.”
The news has sparked some controversy, especially among right wing politicians in the United States, such as Senator Ted Cruz and Sara Palin, with the latter likening Iceland to Nazi Germany.
But CEO of deCODE, Kári Stefánsson, told The Reykjavik Grapevine that Iceland actually has some of the most conservative abortion laws in Europe, and that there are many Icelanders of all ages living with Down’s syndrome.