Volume > Issue > Surveillance of the Unborn: A Human Rights Issue

Surveillance of the Unborn: A Human Rights Issue


By Marika Wilson Smith | July August 1986
Marika Wilson Smith is a Chicago housewife and mother.

When I picked up the newly delivered sack of cloth diapers off our front porch recently, I notic­ed a sheet of paper inside. The diaper service com­pany was announcing its annual collection for the March of Dimes and noted that the delivery man who collected the most MOD donations would re­ceive a prize of dinner out with his wife.

I did not want our delivery man to assume I was ignoring him out of cheapness, so the next week I dashed off a note telling the diaper service that I did not care to contribute to the March of Dimes because of its abortion policies. In return I received a letter from a MOD health educator ex­plaining MOD’s position along with a packet of pamphlets that gave me much more information about March of Dimes — its many worthwhile ef­forts to treat and to prevent birth defects, as well as some efforts that are questionable.

The first item enclosed was a sheet on MOD abortion policy. It stated that no funds from the March of Dimes may be used to pay for abortions. However, a key phrase stood out: “Induced abor­tion may not be made a precondition for prenatal diagnostic procedures provided under programs funded by MOD.” This makes clear that MOD does fund prenatal diagnosis, although it does not make women promise to get an abortion if a defect is discovered.

Two types of prenatal diagnosis are common. Fetal sonograms, done by taking a picture by bouncing soundwaves against a woman’s abdomen, can be done at any point in a pregnancy to deter­mine size, position, and general condition of the fe­tus. Amniocentesis is done at about 16 to 18 weeks via a needle inserted into the uterus to aspirate floating cells that are subsequently cultured to as­certain genetic characteristics. Sometimes fetal son­ograms can provide a diagnosis that leads to prena­tal medical treatment for an unborn child. To my knowledge, however, there is no reason for doing amniocentesis except with the intent of proceed­ing with an abortion if a serious defect is discover­ed.

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