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THIS month brought news that could alter the landscape of American pregnancy.
But the tests also raise ethical questions: whether couples will abort fetuses of an unwanted sex — as has happened in China and India, where boys now out girls. The possibility discomfits many, and is also providing fuel for anti-abortion politics.
The test is the first of an expected raft of DNA tests likely to detect disorders like Down syndrome and other genetic traits early enough in pregnancy that more women may consider abortion. Chapman, a bioethicist at the University of Connecticut Health Center.
Fetal sex tests have a few medical applications, allowing couples with histories of rare sex-linked disorders to avoid costly and invasive genetic testing if they learn they are expecting the other sex. But for most couples, the tests, which are unregulated, simply answer the boy-or-girl question weeks earlier than ultrasound, and in a less invasive and safer way than amniocentesis.
James Egan, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Connecticut Health Center who was a co-author of a study on sex selection with Dr. Chapman and others. At the Fertility Institutes, a set of clinics in Los Angeles, New York and Guadalajara, Mexico, 85 percent of roughly couples each year seek sex selection, although three-quarters of them come from overseas, said Dr.
Jeffrey Steinberg, the medical director.
Steinberg, whose clinics determine sex through pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, an embryo screening that also detects genetic disorders. If a man calls, they almost always want a male. But clinics and some ethicists say this type of sex selection is more acceptable because it occurs before embryos are implanted, before pregnancy.
Grifo said. Still, the cost and commitment of the fertility process makes such sex selection cases relatively unusual.
Anti-abortion groups are incorporating sex selection in legislative agendas. Arizona and Oklahoma recently passed laws banning sex-selected abortion; a similar bill was just introduced in New York. The laws would probably not survive court challenges, said John Robertson, a professor of law and bioethics at the University of Texas.
But while abortion rights groups, like NARAL Pro-Choice America, oppose such bans, they may be less eager to fight them politically or in court because sex selection is not the most socially sympathetic motivation for abortion. After all, one concern is whether immigrants from countries like India and China would use sex tests to abort female fetuses here.
Egan and Dr. Some fetal DNA test-makers are trying to discourage sex selection by not selling in China and India, and requiring customers to waivers saying that is not their motivation. Most mothers in Dr. Egan said.