'Because of the risks': how US pregnant women account for refusing prenatal screening

Soc Sci Med. 1999 Aug;49(3):359-69. doi: 10.1016/s0277-9536(99)00097-0.


Most research on prenatal fetal testing in general, and maternal alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) screening in particular, has focused on women who accept and even actively seek prenatal diagnosis. Much of this work suggests that agreeing to prenatal diagnosis is inextricably linked to the processes associated with the 'medicalization' of reproduction and that most women do not see refusal as an option. In contrast, little attention has been paid to women who decline fetal diagnosis. Instead, it is generally assumed that women who do so are resisting this thrust toward medicalization and/or are opposed to abortion. Our research is designed to address this imbalance. We analyze how a group of US women who refused the offer of AFP screening account for their decisions and compare their explanations with those of women who took the test. Contrary to our expectations, we found that refusal did not signify rejection of and/or resistance to the offerings of science and technology. Rather, women who refused often employed biomedical categories, particularly the concept of 'risk', to reject its very offerings. Furthermore, refusers and acceptors were more alike than different in their views on abortion, medicalization and pregnancy. We conclude that the key difference between the two groups lies in their interpretation and application of biomedical concepts and modern risk-assessment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Diagnosis*
  • Risk Factors
  • Treatment Refusal*
  • United States