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Foetal-related severity is a key concept in policy and legislation relating to access to both reproductive technologies and selective abortions in many countries around the world, but not in Germany. This study sheds light on how 'severity' in the context of prenatal testing is understood and negotiated within the particular socio-cultural and legal context of Germany, where 'severity' relating to foetal clinical findings neither counts as a justification to implement population prenatal screening programs, nor as a legal ground to terminate pregnancy. This study explores the views of women who undergo prenatal testing, as well as of professionals who encounter them, through semi-structured interviews. It showcases how they frame severity and questions whether the existing legal and regulatory framework relating to prenatal testing and termination of pregnancy addresses their concerns and needs regarding reproductive decision-making. The interviews (n = 27) reveal that despite it being legally outside the explicit reasons for testing and termination of pregnancy, both women and professionals negotiate severity behind the scenes. Their interpretation of severity is highly context-dependent and relies on clinical, social and familial facets. Their perceptions of severity guide them in their handling of and decision-making around pregnancy management. Acknowledging the personal nature of severity assessment and providing professional or legal guidance which explicitly mentions foetal anomaly as a legitimate factor in pregnancy management could provide healthcare professionals and patients with the room needed to manage the pregnancy favourably.

Original publication




Journal article


European journal of human genetics : EJHG

Publication Date



Institute of Ethics and History of Health in Society, University of Augsburg, Augsburg, Germany.