Biotech before Birth: Amnio, Abortion, and (dis)Ability

By Berube, Michael | Tikkun, May/June 2000 | Go to article overview

Biotech before Birth: Amnio, Abortion, and (dis)Ability


Berube, Michael, Tikkun


Biotech before Birth: Amnio, Abortion, and (dis)Ability

Michael Berube

Michael Berube is professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; his latest book is The Employment of English: Theory, Jobs, and the Future of Literary Study (NYU, 1998).

Testing Women, Testing the Fetus: The Social Impact of Amniocentesis in America, by Rayna Rapp. Routledge, 1999.

In the spring of 1991 my wife, Janet, was pregnant, and because she was thirty-six years old, she was advised by our doctor to consider having an amniocentesis. Like many Americans, Janet and I thought of the procedure primarily as a screen for Down syndrome. The test would be done sixteen to eighteen weeks into the pregnancy, and would come back within two weeks. If the test proved "positive"--if it revealed genetic anomalies in the fetus--we would then face the decision of whether to continue or terminate the pregnancy.

Immediately Janet and I began performing an intricate moral calculus. Though we were and are pro-choice as a political matter, we had deep reservations about abortion as late as twenty weeks into a pregnancy; something would have to be drastically wrong with the fetus, we reasoned, before we would take that option. Gradually, we agreed that we did not consider Down syndrome "wrong" enough to warrant a late abortion. I noticed that the risk of spontaneous miscarriage as a result of amniocentesis was 0.5 percent: amniocentesis is, after all, an invasive procedure, and roughly once in every 200 tests it terminates a pregnancy in and of itself. The numerical odds, when combined with our misgivings over mid-pregnancy abortion, seemed to speak for themselves; better a child with Down syndrome, we thought, than a late abortion or an amniocentesis-induced miscarriage.

That September, James Lyon Berube was born. He has Down syndrome. He's now in the second grade, fully "mainstreamed" with an in-class aide in our local public school, where he's occasionally stubborn, sometimes mischievous, very well liked by his peers, and unexpectedly good at math and spelling and reading.

In 1983, feminist anthropologist Rayna Rapp had an amniocentesis, which turned up positive for Down syndrome. With great regret, she and her partner chose to terminate the pregnancy. The experience, it would appear from Testing Women, Testing the Fetus, simply changed her life. For fifteen years following that one prenatal test, Rapp turned a fierce and probing critical intelligence on every aspect of the experience, from biotech lab procedures to genetic counseling to inner-city prenatal care to the politics of abortion and disability. Yet Testing Women, Testing the Fetus is nothing like a memoir. Rather, it undertakes an in-depth ethnographic examination of the social impact of prenatal testing, culminating fifteen years of fieldwork among "seven constituencies: genetic counselors, geneticists, laboratory diagnosticians, pregnant women who accepted amniocentesis, those who refused it, women who received a positive diagnosis and chose to end their pregnancies, and families with children who have conditions that the test can now reveal before birth." Even more ambitiously, it shows how biotechnologies of reproduction are "culturally constituted." And what might "culturally constituted" mean in this field, at this historical moment? That's precisely what Rapp has tried to answer, by way of showing, via the practice of ethnography, "why a routinizing technology does not always stay en route."

It's worth noting, first, that before amniocentesis can become a "routinizing technology," a lot of other stuff has to be routine. Humans have to have discovered genes and chromosomes; the Foucauldian sciences of population management have to have matured to the point at which maternal conditions (age, ethnicity, family history) can be assessed in terms of statistical quanta; and, not least among these, abortion has to have become legal and--to some degree, at least--destigmatized. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Biotech before Birth: Amnio, Abortion, and (dis)Ability
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.