More frequent prenatal testing for foetal abnormalities has lead to more early-term abortions in Sweden, a new report revealed last year. In one in five abortions in Sweden, the discovery of chromosomal anomalies explained the woman's decision to terminate the pregnancy.
All damages to an aborted foetus are reported to the National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialistyrelsen), where researchers said on Friday that they could not follow up on the mother's lifestyle, diet and other factors to try to find causes of the abnormalities - because the identity of women who have an abortion in Sweden is protected.
The hidden identity poses a scientific problem, they warned.
"We are not jumping into the debate about diagnostics, nor questioning the woman's right to abortion, this is simply a question about the possibility of discovering potential threats," said doctor Karin Källen who is researching foetal damage on behalf of the health board.
She said the authorities inability to contact the women to ask more questions meant Sweden could be missing out on vital clues to why some foetuses are affected by abnormalities.
"We have received reports about patterns in the abnormalities, but as long as we can't go back to the woman to see what she has eaten and been exposed to, we can't trace it," Källen said.
Her colleague Karin Gottvall suggested anonymity be lifted when the foeteus has suffered damages.
"It's unfortunate that one treats all abortions the same regardless of the cause of the termination," Gottvall told the TT news agency.
A government-appointed inquiry suggested already in 2004 that the law be amended, but no reform has been enacted.
In 2012, for every 1,000 children born in Sweden, 5.2 pregnancies were terminated following prenatal testing. Some 22 percent of mothers who found out their child had a chromosomal abnormality chose to terminate the pregnancy.
Apart from Down's Syndrome, expectant parents also faced giving birth to children with serious heart, lung and kidney conditions. The mother chose to terminate the pregnancy in 88 percent of cases when the child had anencaphaly - a condition when part of the child's brain is missing. They also chose abortion in 75 percent of cases where doctors detected bilateral renal agenesis - when the child is missing both kidneys.