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More than 15,000 pregnant women underwent tests to determine the likelihood of congenital abnormalities in their unborn children every year between 2000 and 2002, despite the government’s recommendation that the practice be scrapped, it was learned Saturday.

According to a study by Haruhiko Sago, of the National Center for Child Health and Research, the test — the maternal blood serum marker test — is used to check the likelihood of children being born with such maladies as Down’s syndrome and neural tube defects.

It is a simple test that involves taking a blood sample, but the government issued a recommendation in June 1999 that doctors not suggest that pregnant women have the test as it could lead to a “weeding out” of fetuses with such diseases.

Although the number of tests conducted on pregnant women temporarily decreased after the recommendation, the figure has begun to rise again, and the latest study shows that the practice is still widely accepted, the researchers said.

The survey involved 54 facilities such as university hospitals and testing companies that were considered likely to be conducting tests on samples collected from medical institutions.

The team asked the institutions in December 2001 and September this year whether and how often they conducted the maternal serum marker test.

In 1998, the test was conducted on 21,708 women at seven facilities. The figure dropped to 18,312 in 1999, the year the recommendation was issued, and 15,927 in 2000, according to the survey.

However, in 2001, the number of facilities that conducted the test fell to five, but the number of tests remained flat at 15,308, while the figure rose to 15,627 in 2002, the survey showed.

The test only shows the possibility of a fetus having a defect and a definite diagnosis requires more specific tests. Critics argue that without proper counseling and access to accurate information, women may misunderstand the test results and decide to have an abortion.

“I believe that the survey paints a quite all-inclusive picture of reality,” Sago said. “Even if the woman’s doctor does not recommend the test, an increasing number of women may be asking to be tested after hearing of it.”

Sago added that the parties involved need to swiftly set up proper counseling services.

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