Testimony on Amniocentesis by a Catholic Pro-Life Activist

Let me pose a difficult question: Who gets to determine who lives and who dies? Personally, I don’t think that any human has the right to do so. Human life is in the hands of God, and God only. But there are those who believe that people, specifically pregnant women, should be able to determine whether their unborn children deserve to live or not. As you all know, I am talking about genetic testing, specifically amniocentesis, and its link to a much greater problem, abortion. Ultimately, whenever a woman goes to a clinic for testing, she is considering aborting what she considers an unhealthy baby (even if the thought is just in the very back of her mind), and therefore, the administration of these tests must not be permitted, or at the very least, funded by the government.

Amniocentesis is a form of testing in which a large needle is stuck into the uterus of a woman fairly late into her pregnancy to test her amniotic fluid for chromosomal defects and genetic disorders. This test is dangerous for the baby, and could potentially cause a miscarriage. However, it is recommended for all women over the age of 35 in America (Rapp 33). When a pregnant woman is given a negative test result, she is relieved, and has nothing to worry about for the rest of her pregnancy, but when a woman is given a positive diagnosis, her life has changed forever. In this moment, she is given the impossible choice of whether to let her child be born and live with a disability, or die.

Amniocentesis creates the idea of tentative pregnancy, in which a pregnancy is not truly considered until the results of the test are given. This is not true, as the fetus is not a ‘temporary life’ until testing; it is a human being from the moment of conception. The idea of selective abortion, or late abortion that is due to a diagnosis, comes out of these tests. It forces women to avert their eyes to the fact that they are debating ending a life.

For one, this sounds quite a bit like eugenics. No individual person is more important or more powerful than another, so nobody has the right to control which types of people get to live and which do not. This could create a “slippery slope of a eugenic boutique,” because if we can choose to narrow down the disabled population, who is to say that we won’t decide to narrow down a race that people in power deem inferior? Or create a society in which the rich get to choose what their future children will be like before birth (Rapp 38)? This is simply morally wrong. Human beings do not have the agency to decide who gets to be born. This is God’s domain.

I believe that it is better not to bear the burden of knowledge of whether one’s unborn child does or doesn’t have a chromosomal disability. Firstly, these disabilities manifest in different ways, and many people with them lead perfectly normal lives. Secondly, the diagnosis causes more anxiety and possibly even resentment towards the child. Finally, and most obviously, this knowledge provides people with the idea that they can destroy the life of their child if they do not like the test result. Without amniocentesis, families will take life’s challenges as they come, and if the child is born with a disability and they do not want to keep him/her, they can consider adoption. It is unfair, however, for parents to choose to end the child’s life without his/her consent, which cannot be done in utero.

I will admit that many of my ideas do stem from my faith. However, Catholicism is not only a religion, but a moral code for which all people should follow, and it is my duty to help ensure that all people are not following the path of sin. When it comes to abortion, the Church’s natural moral law forbids the destruction of human life, as all people have a “right to life from the moment of conception until death,” and God is the only one who has the right to “destroy directly an innocent human being” (Donum Vitae 146). The Second Vatican Council ruled that “abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes,” and that from the point of fertilization, a person has a soul (D.V. 147). With this in mind, I ask you all, would you kill a five year old child that cannot stand up for itself? I would assume that your answer to this question would be ‘no.’ There is no difference in the soul between a five year old and a fetus, or even a grown adult, for that matter. The Church said specifically that any genetic testing that could plant thoughts about abortion is a “gravely illicit act” (D.V. 148). The laws of the Church have been put in place to provide a moral and ethical path for all humans, and it would be wise to use it as a guideline to stop immoral acts from happening in this country.

I would like to bring up an example of a country that treats pregnancy and the creation of human life as a miracle: Japan. In Japan, there is a culture of treating pregnancy as a full time job in which the mother-to-be is constantly working to do her best to serve her child. Japanese pregnant women are careful not to harm their babies, and generally do not work or use public transportation in order to avoid danger. They even spend time performing Taikyo, or the practice of educating and bonding with the unborn baby. In Japan, amniocentesis is rarely used, since there is an understanding among the society that the test is both dangerous and useless, as the vast majority of women would not be having abortions if they received positive diagnoses anyway. There is a deep respect for the fetus and it’s soul, and it is displayed when Japanese families memorialize their miscarried children. Even without the guidelines of the Catholic Church, Japanese society understands the morality of the natural law that requires the respect of the fetus (Ivry, Ch 3). The United States should use this as an example of how we can improve our own societal flaws and guide people in the right direction.

The idea that knowledge is power is extremely important. However, the knowledge acquired through amniocentesis creates a major burden on all parties involved. Doctors and genetic counselors are in the position of having to decide what to advise parents. Genetic testing does provide them with their entire businesses, but money and business have no place in this type of moral debate. Without amniocentesis, these people could find jobs elsewhere. The government has to deal with the burden of protecting or allowing people to selectively destroy their own babies. Government officials are first and foremost concerned with the wellbeing of their constituents, so they should count these fetuses as part of the community and work to serve them as well. The pregnant mother and her husband have much at stake, as they are forced to “act as a moral philosopher of the limits, adjudicating the standards guarding entry into human community for which she serves as a normalizing gatekeeper” (Rapp 131). Amniocentesis, along with abortion, causes the woman to consider questions such as ‘am I making a statement against people with disabilities,’ ‘at what point am I committing to my child,’ ‘what if the test was wrong and I aborted a healthy baby,’ and ‘does a person with disabilities not deserve to live?’ We talk about the positive impact of diversity, so what kind of moral society would we be if we eliminated people with differences? We need to appreciate these differences and embrace them. Finally, I believe that the fetus itself has the most at stake. If a woman decides to abort her baby, she has eliminated the life of a person who could not speak up for him/herself. Every human, including those with disabilities, has the potential to change the world. Aborting a fetus would destroy this soul’s opportunity to live and serve God and his/her community.

These problems could all be avoided in two ways. One way would be to ban abortion, which would make the need for amniocentesis disappear. Another way would be to ban the test itself, which would not allow women to even consider abortion due to disability. Without testing, this kind of selective abortion would not be possible. However, since we are not debating this, I would suggest, at the very least, defunding clinics that perform amniocentesis. This would help prevent women from considering selective abortion.

I would like to conclude by thanking you all for listening to my advice. Of course my beliefs do stem from my Catholic faith, however, even while stepping out of this position I cannot accept the idea of a genetic test that directly leads to women considering abortion. Instead of focusing funding on these tests, we should put the money into helping families with disabled children. This would promote the moral ideal of treating others kindly and with respect. Thank you, and I appreciate your support.



Ivry, Tsipy. “The Path of Bonding.” Embodying Culture. N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. pag. Print.

Rapp, Rayna. Testing Women, Testing the Fetus: The Social Impact of Amniocentesis in America. New York: Routledge, 2000. ProQuest Ebrary. ProQuest. Web.

Shannon, Thomas A., and Lisa Sowle Cahill. “Appendix.” Afterword. Religion and Artificial Reproduction: An Inquiry into the Vatican “Instruction on Respect for Human Life in Its Origin and on the Dignity of Human Reproduction”. New York: Crossroad, 1988. N. pag. Print.



2 Replies to “Testimony on Amniocentesis by a Catholic Pro-Life Activist”

  1. Hello Miss. Moscovitz,
    I was reading your published plea to Congress in the local newspaper and was immediately eager to have a moral debate of sorts. You and I are both Catholics, passionate about the state of reproductive technologies and their viability in our society, however, we appear to lie at opposing ends of the spectrum. Firstly, I would like to thank you for your well written, informative, and highly persuasive piece, I was aware of amniocentesis beforehand, but the information you provided made the procedure much clearer. I am a neurosurgeon at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York. As a practicing medical professional and a proud Catholic, the subject of life, death, and abortion is of extremely delicate nature to me as well. However, I have had the pleasure of becoming what I like to call ideologically diversified as a result of my numerous interactions with the Jewish patients and community here in New York. Thus, what I can bring to your argument is one that is possibly more open and viewed from a different lens.
    You open your argument with the question who gets to decide who lives and who dies, well I will pose a question back to you, who gets to decide whether this terminated being is of human status the same way you and I are? The latter question gravely affects the former, and should be asked in conjunction, because as you will soon see, the answer to that question sets the tone to our divided perspectives. I am aware that as a fellow Catholic you may expect me to believe that life starts at conception, but even if I do believe this, why should my belief dominate the law of a land that is home to a plethora of diverse thinkers. For example, according to Jewish law, a developing human does not hold the same status as a fully developed human (Prainsack, 183). So, should Jewish people be subject to the same pro-life moral pathway? This idea of Catholicism being a natural law for all of man is one that I believe is in direct conflict with a fundamental aspect of this nation’s government. As Catholics, we of course want to spread our beliefs, but to force a change in the way American society is governed because of our beliefs would interfere with the separation of Church and state, and is in a way immoral in itself. We have seen some of the global effects of a group of people within a religion attempting to push their ideologies onto others, it may be in good intention, but can ultimately create a false moral hierarchy in which those at the bottom are trespassing on the one and only correct moral way of life.
    In your first paragraph, you argue for the cessation of amniocentesis because it may be inherently funding abortion, well if abortion is legal, why should the possibility of funding be a conflict of interests for the very Congress that signed abortion into law? I agree with your point about the weight of knowing a child’s health before birth, and that the looming option for abortion would be burdensome for mothers, but is this suggesting we should remain uninformed. Catholic belief hinges on the teachings of Genesis. And as can be seen in the first chapter of Genesis, God gives us dominion over the Earth (a scripture that I’m sure you are well aware of) (Catholic Church, 142). The scripture says for man to take control, whether it be control of a herd of sheep or control of our future. Furthermore, the “Donum Vitae” recognizes the search for truth and man to “fully discover the truth of his own being” (Catholic Church, 141). So why should we turn a blind eye to knowledge, because of the possibility of a burdensome truth? The verse’s command in Genesis does not come on a conditional basis. The Lord was clear in His command, so let us be as clear in our execution.
    Finally, you state, “what kind of moral society would we be if we limited these differences”, but you then go on to call for a ban of abortion and even deem yourself pro-life, opposite of pro-choice. Pro-choice is an allowance for people to choose, not to be mistaken with pro-abortion, and choice is what makes individuals different. So how can one choose if we restrict choice by law? The same way you and I choose to be Catholic, Muslims choose to wear a hijab, or atheists choose to reject religion. God gives us free will, and one of the major arguments the “Donum Vitae” makes is the role of man trying to play God, so if we limit choice/free-will, a privilege given to us by the Lord Himself, would that not be considered interfering with God’s vision, and an attempt to “play God”?
    I ask for you as my Catholic brethren to consider the potential of Catholicism to be one that recognizes the differences in our ideologies as man. I have been able to understand the moral reasoning of other religions such as Judaism and as a result I am aware of the natural ability for humans to answer foundational questions in vastly different ways. Of course I still accept the Lord as my creator and Jesus Christ as my savior, but I do not believe that we should subject law to one way of thinking but more so fulfill reasoning of law with a complete theological/philosophical analysis. My personal research involves utilizing the very technologies you and many Catholics would denounce, in order to cure a mountain of currently incurable diseases. I do not believe that God wants His believers to turn a blind eye to medical treatments that have become available to us, and if we can recognize the need for us as a people to continue advancing towards a better Earth and race of humans, then we can also recognize the need to advance medically as well.
    Thank You.

  2. I respectfully disagree with many aspects of your testimony. Firstly, your argument contains many unsubstantiated claims. In the first paragraph you say, “Ultimately, whenever a woman goes to a clinic for testing, she is considering aborting what she considers an unhealthy baby.” One cannot possibly assume to know what a woman is or is not considering when she goes in for testing; a woman with anti-abortion views could simply be in search of more information or someone set on keeping the child could be worried about a hereditary genetic disease that runs in the family. You continue to say that “Amniocentesis creates the idea of tentative pregnancy.” If a woman is pregnant, a woman is pregnant — no matter if she aborts the baby, loses it to a miscarriage, it is stillborn or she has a healthy baby, it is conjecture to claim she does not not truly consider herself pregnant until the amniocentesis is performed. Further on you state, “…the diagnosis causes more anxiety and possibly even resentment toward a child.” As you say later on, knowledge is power. It is a favor to the mother and the child to know the state of the fetus’s health before birth because that gives her time to prepare for what’s to come. That gives the mother many months to adjust expectations, learn about any conditions or disabilities, and abject her preparation accordingly.

    Secondly, there is one major piece of this argument missing: what’s at stake for the mother? As we have discussed in class, it is vital to look at the stakes and the context of a situation. You have laid out the stakes for the potential life of the fetus by claiming, “the fetus itself has the most at stake.” However, there is no consideration of the mother. There are consequences from privileging the potential life of an unborn child over the already realized life of the parent. The lack of concern for a woman’s financial, physical and emotional capacity to care for a child —especially with a disability — gives me pause because those factors affect both the mother and the child. I do not hold pro-natalist views. I firmly believe that no woman is obligated or has a duty to bear a child because that expectation violates her autonomy and places an unfair burden of responsibility on her. Furthermore, the suffering of a mother affects the suffering of a child. It is not in that child’s best interest to be brought into the world without the resources and support it will need to flourish. When we speak of respecting human dignity, you seem to be unconcerned with setting an unborn child up with the proper scaffolding necessary to survive.

    Thirdly, I hold vastly different viewpoints than the majority of the argument founded from Donum Vitae. I respect whatever views other people hold, but I do not think that Catholicism is a moral code for which all people should follow, and I also do not believe it is your duty to help ensure that all people are not following the path of sin. The separation of Church and State is a foundational piece of our country’s philosophy; public policy is not meant to be decided by the Vatican’s teachings. To identify a few specific examples, I do not hold the view that autonomous life begins at the moment of conception, as Donum Vitae asserts on page 146, but that autonomous life begins at viability. If this assumption is not guaranteed, the following claims subsequently collapse: if one views a fetus as still a fetus at the time of abortion, one is not “destroy[ing] directly a human life” but preventing the fetus from developing into a human life (146). Claiming that “abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes” conflates two drastically different acts. Terminating a fetus before viability and killing a child once it is already born is very different to me, as someone who sees a fetus as having different rights than an infant (147).

    This testimony is convincing for someone who shares a similar viewpoint. However, as someone who does not, many of the arguments fall through without substantiated claim. I support the right for women to have access to amniocentesis not in support of aborting disabled fetuses, but in order to have full knowledge of the health of her child before it is delivered. I also believe in equal and broad access to abortion because it is the woman’s right to decide if she is capable physically, financially and emotionally to be responsible for another human being. Banning abortion would not bring an end to the practice, but push it underground. This would make an already overwhelming and potentially traumatizing experience less accessible and less safe.

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