Fostering Informed Choice: Alleviating the Trauma of Genetic Abortions

43 Pages Posted: 15 Mar 2018

See all articles by Bret D. Asbury

Bret D. Asbury

Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law

Date Written: 2015


Each year, thousands of pregnant women learn of fetal abnormalities through prenatal genetic analysis. This discovery — made after a woman has initially declined to exercise her right to abort an unwanted pregnancy — raises the difficult and heart-wrenching question of whether to terminate on genetic grounds. Women considering a genetic abortion rely on information and support from health care providers to assist them in making their choice. Though intended to be objective and nondirective, the support women receive frequently provides them with incomplete and incomprehensible information having the effect of encouraging them to abort genetically anomalous fetuses. As a result, genetic terminations — which cause severe and long-standing psychological impacts such as pathological grief, depression and post-traumatic stress — are often the result of something other than a fully informed choice.

Congress and eleven states have recognized the importance of better informing choice by passing legislation aimed at providing clearer and more balanced information to expectant mothers learning of fetal genetic abnormalities. But existing legislative remedies do not adequately address this problem, and this inadequacy will become more pronounced in future years as increases in access to prenatal genetic analysis further stretch the capabilities of the available support services. This Article describes the unique characteristics of terminations for a fetal abnormality, their troubling and persistent psychological impacts, and the reasons why they will become more common in future years. It then offers proposals for how to reconfigure the prenatal genetic counseling landscape in order to reduce the incidence of genetic terminations based on incomplete or misleading information, thereby alleviating their distinct psychological costs. Its overall objective is to ensure that women learning of prenatal genetic abnormalities have access to complete and comprehensible information prior to making their decision and adequate support whether or not they choose to terminate.

Keywords: abortion, informed choice, genetic analysis, fetal genetic abnormalities, genetic abortion, genetic termination, genetic prenatal analysis

Suggested Citation

Asbury, Bret D., Fostering Informed Choice: Alleviating the Trauma of Genetic Abortions (2015). Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy, Vol. 25, 2015, Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law Research Paper No. 2018-A-01, Available at SSRN:

Bret D. Asbury (Contact Author)

Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law ( email )

3320 Market Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States
(215) 571-4786 (Phone)

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