Blood test determines baby's sex, raises ethical concerns

You have to wait 20 weeks to know the sex of a baby, but a new blood test cuts that down to seven. / Abby Batchedler (Flicrk)

Pro-life advocates are worried that a new test used to determine an unborn baby's sex in as early as seven weeks may foster more abortions, according to a Boston Globe article.

Routine ultrasounds at 20 weeks pregnant can usually help a woman determine the sex of her unborn baby, but a medical journal review published on Tuesday may influence a groundbreaking procedure that involves a simple blood test.

Through blood tests that detect the Y chromosome present only in male cells, expecting mothers could know their baby's gender in as little as seven weeks.

European countries have used the test for years, but for unknown reasons, the practice never caught hold in the US. But the new study reveals that the tests were more than 95 percent accurate at determining gender at seven weeks in 370,500 cases.

While numerous couples may celebrate the test, specialists predict it could also lead more women to terminate a pregnancy when the fetus is not the gender of their choice. Drops in the percentage of girl babies in countries like India and China support this theory, most likely because these cultures rely on men to take care of their elders.

"If couples can get the results earlier, that makes abortion less burdensome," bioethicist Arthur Caplan said in an interview with the Boston Globe. "A woman can take the test, and then take pills to terminate the pregnancy in the privacy of her home when it's that early on. I would say gender selection is a bad reason to have an abortion, which is tough for a pro-choicer like me to admit."

More health news Popular Ohio fountain institutes potty breaks because of problem with No.2 Wauseon lineman recovering from collapse Study: Want to eat healthy? Pay $380 more a year Health Dept. releases West Nile Virus precautions

Despite ethical setbacks, researchers are optimistic that the blood test could also help identify chromosome-linked conditions like hemophilia, which affects only boys.

For those in the US who can't wait to try the procedure, the only option is an online test through websites like The company charges $179 for a basic kit that is mailed to the expecting woman.

Unfortunately, there is no way to know how accurate these mail in tests are since they are not regulated by the FDA.

Would you opt for the blood test instead of an ultrasound if the practice became available in the US? Are the ethical issues behind the procedure less relevant in the US, where cultural values don't openly favor boys over girls? Leave your comment with us below.

Read more at the Boston Globe