Doctors Treating Pregnant Women To Prevent Lesbian Babies

Jim Burroway

June 30th, 2010

There has been a considerable body of research trying to examine the role that pre-natal hormones may play in the development of homosexuality and other types of perceived gender-variant identities, interests and behavior in adulthood. Researchers Alice Dreger, Ellen K. Feder, and Anne Tamar-Mattis have raised the alarm that some doctors are giving pregnant women doses of dexamethasone (or just “dex”), a risky Class C steroid, to prevent congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) from developing in female fetuses.

CAH can lead to ambiguous genitalia in females leading to a form of an intersex condition. A few researchers have linked CAH with sexual orientation. Dreger, et al., write:

Pediatric endocrinologist Maria New, of Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Florida International University, and her long-time collaborator, psychologist Heino F. L. Meyer-Bahlburg, of Columbia University, have been tracing evidence for the influence of prenatal androgens in sexual orientation. In a paper entitled “Sexual Orientation in Women with Classical or Non-Classical Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia as a Function of Degree of Prenatal Androgen Excess” published in 2008 in Archives of Sexual Behavior, Meyer-Bahlburg and New (with two others) gather evidence of “a dose-response relationship of androgens with sexual orientation” through a study of women with various forms of CAH.

They specifically point to reasons to believe that it is prenatal androgens that have an impact on the development of sexual orientation. The authors write, “Most women were heterosexual, but the rates of bisexual and homosexual orientation were increased above controls . . . and correlated with the degree of prenatal androgenization.”

They go on to suggest that the work might offer some insight into the influence of prenatal hormones on the development of sexual orientation in general. “That this may apply also to sexual orientation in at least a subgroup of women is suggested by the fact that earlier research has repeatedly shown that about one-third of homosexual women have (modestly) increased levels of androgens.” They “conclude that the findings support a sexual-differentiation perspective involving prenatal androgens on the development of sexual orientation.”

In another paper published in 1999, Meyer-Bahlburg suggests that CAH in women can cause such “a lower interest … in getting married and performing the traditional child-case/housewife role” — a condition that Focus On the Family, I’m sure, would agree must be avoided at all costs. Dreger, et al., also point to another paper published this year by New and Saroj Nimkam of Weill Cornell Medical College, which links women’s interest in traditionally male occupations and games as “abnormal.” This, Dreger et al. say, shows how preposterous these assumptions are in scientific research:

It seems more than a little ironic to have New, one of the first women pediatric endocrinologists and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, constructing women who go into “men’s” fields as “abnormal.” And yet it appears that New is suggesting that the “prevention” of “behavioral masculinization” is a benefit of treatment to parents with whom she speaks about prenatal dex. In a 2001 presentation to the CARES Foundation (a videotape of which we have), New seemed to suggest to parents that one of the goals of treatment of girls with CAH is to turn them into wives and mothers. Showing a slide of the ambiguous genitals of a girl with CAH, New told the assembled parents:

“The challenge here is . . . to see what could be done to restore this baby to the normal female appearance which would be compatible with her parents presenting her as a girl, with her eventually becoming somebody’s wife, and having normal sexual development, and becoming a mother. And she has all the machinery for motherhood, and therefore nothing should stop that, if we can repair her surgically and help her psychologically to continue to grow and develop as a girl.”

Today, New doesn’t think surgery is necessary, but administering dex to pregnant mothers is another matter altogether. And so, without ethical oversight and without informing mothers of the risks of taking a powerful Class C steroid during pregnancy, New and her colleagues have been undertaking a dangerous, unregulated experiment to try to prevent lesbianism in fetuses.

It is widely accepted in the gay community that the more people come to believe that homosexuality is biological in origin, the greater the willingness of the general public to accept the notion of equal rights for gay people. While opinion polls bear a strong correlation between accepting a biological origin and gay rights, that attitude does not necessarily extend to the medical community.

This case isn’t the first time we’ve seen researchers suggest that trying to prevent homosexuality is an ethically defensible position.In 2001, Aaron Greenberg and the controversial J. Michael Baily, both of Northwestern University, published a paper in the Archives of Sexual Behavior noting that “As we learn more about the causes of sexual orientation, the likelihood increases that parents will one day be able to select the orientation of their children.” They gave a number of reasons why parents might seek to prevent homosexuality in their children or even abort a fetus if a test were to determine that the fetus were homosexual. Interestingly, they deny that the reasons are based on heterosexism, yet go on to raise a number of heteronormative reasons why parents might want to abort or treat gay fetuses:

Parental desires to avoid having a homosexual child may, however, arise out of motives that are less blameworthy than heterosexism. In fact, the motive may be praiseworthy. In attempting to avoid having a homosexual child, a parent may be motivated by a desire to spare the child the unhappiness that may arise out of living in a society that often treats homosexual people badly in a variety of ways. Surely such a motive deserves moral approval as would an action based on the motive, at least so long as the benefits of sparing the child are not outweighed by any harms the action might cause (see discussion of costs, given later).

Finally, selecting for a heterosexual child may stem from motives that are neither good nor bad, but simply acceptable, from a moral standpoint. For example, parents may wish, understandably, to guarantee themselves the highest probability of one day having grandchildren. Although homosexual people often have children, one’s chances of being a grandparent would certainly seem to be maximized by having heterosexual children. The desire for grandchildren is one that seems morally neutral and that a great many people would no doubt understand and sympathize with.

Heterosexual parents may also wish to have heterosexual children for the simple reason that they wish to have children more like themselves, with whom they can more easily and completely fulfill the role of parent in connection with their children’s sexual lives. That role involves such activities as teaching, advising, empathizing, and vicariously experiencing, all of which would be, at least in many cases, facilitated by parents’ sharing the sexual orientation of their children. A comparison may be made here with a child’s religious upbringing. Catholic parents, let us say,would very often be deeply disappointed and saddened by the conversion to, say, Judaism, of their children. This is not necessarily because the parents are anti-Semites or even value Judaism less than Catholicism. Rather, such parents may wish to have children who are like themselves in this respect and with whom they can share certain feelings and experiences that are important to them. Few people would claim that such parents are acting immorally when they enculturate a child in their religion. Similarly, heterosexual parents might wish to have heterosexual children not because they object to homosexuality but to have more in common with their children in an important area of life. Such a motive seems understandable and morally acceptable.

Of course, many on the religious right would still condemn all abortions regardless of the reason. But for them, finding a medical “cure” for homosexuality would be perfectly acceptable. In 2007, Rev. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, noting the possible “ram”-ifications of gay sheep studies, acknowledged that there may indeed be a biological basis for homosexuality. That acknowledgment nearly made him a pariah among fellow conservatives who view that possibility an anathema, particularly to the ex-gay dogma that clings to the “curable” viewpoints based on environmental theories of homosexuality. But Mohler had a simple way out of that dilemna:

If a biological basis is found, and if a prenatal test is then developed, and if a successful treatment to reverse the sexual orientation to heterosexual is ever developed, we would support its use as we should unapologetically support the use of any appropriate means to avoid sexual temptation and the inevitable effects of sin.

The problem however is that, like the “treatments” deployed in ex-gay therapy, these latest highly experimental medical treatments are being performed without ethical oversight or professional standards. Alice Dreger worries that New, Meyer-Bahlburg, and other researchers are placing pregnant women under enormous risks:

This drug is unequivocally experimental and risky. … In spite of Dr. Maria New’s outrageous FDA-regulation-flaunting claims that this off-label drug use “has been found safe for mother and child,” it ain’t been. New is a rogue pediatrician whom medical societies have been nudging (and sometimes yelling at) for years. Because she apparently wouldn’t stop experimenting on these women and children without ethics oversight, in January I got called in to help by a few freaked-out clinicians. And I called in my colleagues to call out the feds. New just looks and sounds safe for mothers and children. Which is why she’s really dangerous.

In fact, much as is the case with the ex-gay movement, Dr. New is not only ignoring the risks, but she’s flying completely blind as well:

In the Q&A period, during a discussion of prenatal dex treatments, an audience member asked New, “Isn’t there a benefit to the female babies in terms of reducing the androgen effects on the brain?” New answered, “You know, when the babies who have been treated with dex prenatally get to an age in which they are sexually active, I’ll be able to answer that question.” At that point, she’ll know if they are interested in taking men and making babies.

[Hat tip: Dan Savage]

Update: In her blog post at Psychology Today, Alice Dreger handily demolishes each of the reasons that many (Greenberg and Bailey, for example) give to justify trying to prevent gay children from being born. My favorite is #6:

6. Puppies make great grandchildren, not least because if your child goes away and you’re too busy to care for them, you can put them in a kennel.

Ben Mathis

June 30th, 2010

“People don’t want to vaccinate their precious darlings against known deadly diseases that are preventable (whooping cough, measles, etc.), thus affecting ALL of us, because of some unproven link to autism, but they WILL allow their fetuses to be injected with this toxic shit?”


June 30th, 2010

I love how Greenberg and Baily just devolve to blaming the victim. Sparing the child prejudice?

Why the f*ck has nobody come up with treatment so that Asians and Blacks spit our Caucasian babies, just so that they don’t experience racism?

And the religious point was even more bullshit. Catholics don’t get offended because the children aren’t like them, it’s because they’ve left their real faith for an outsider, unworthy faith. They ARE anti-Semites if they take issue with the child’s free choice in taking a religion of his choosing that is not concurrent with the parents. If they didn’t see anything wrong with Judaism, why would they object?

After all, we don’t see parents getting upset when their children choose different careers from them, or have different tastes in terms of favorite colors or TV show, or when they don’t dress just like them. Children differ from their parents quite a bit many times, and parents don’t take issue. When they do take issue, rest assured there’s some value judgement passed on the center of contention.

Regan DuCasse

June 30th, 2010

I was JUST SICK when I read this. On the one hand, as pointed out…there is a determination to deny that being gay is biological in origin.

While at the same time, hunting for biological measures to prevent or alter it.


The defense of Jim Crow, interracial marriage and social integration was for the prevention of ‘mongrel children’ that racial purists were certain had social disabilities as well as biological ones. Not only did they cite ‘research’ that mixed people were retarded, lacked the ability to mature and get along in the world, but that having neither cultural world to be accepted in, demonstrated the rationality in preventing their existence.

And of course, we all know that the Nazi experiments on gays and lesbians had similar interests. To increase the production of children, and to assure that those children were the elite in health and intelligence.

That ANYONE still entertains what is tantamount to the genocide of gay people with a straight face, makes me so sick.

These people contradict themselves all over the place, if you reference my first paragraph, in ways that no sane, honest or intelligent person should see as anything other than INSANE.

Besides, many lesbians DO have strong maternal instincts, and many heterosexual women DON’T.
And it’s bad enough that incompetent people feel pressured to BE parents when they shouldn’t be. And the result is the horrific statistics of just how many children are abandoned, abused, neglected and murdered in the first place.
The problem isn’t that enough people don’t have the parental instinct. The problem is too many people become parents who shouldn’t, and some of those reasons aren’t biological either.
But financial and intellectual.

This. Is. Appalling.
So, are the asexual going to be targets of this too. So that those with no interest in sex, will be forced to suddenly want it?
And isn’t the problem that too many people DO have sex without thinking about what comes after?

How and why gay people are constantly the targets of all kinds of crazy schemes, impossible expectations and every other kook theory is unbelievable.
The anti gay are just inexhaustible with that, no matter the cost.
When JUST LEAVING GAY FOLKS ALONE, is the one, and best solution of all.

Regan DuCasse

June 30th, 2010

I have an even better question, since this is about people experimenting with eugenics.

Sociopaths, are about the most dangerous people in the world. The condition is one of not being able to have any care or feelings for another person. No remorse, no sense of guilt or empathy. Their sole interests are for themselves and who gets hurt in that relentless pursuit of personal gain, matters not.

So, why not try to cure schizophrenia? Or sociopathy? Or autism, homicidal or violent tendencies?

These are all measurable instances of a person’s dysfunction. To either care for themselves, someone else, or who are dangerous.
Those researchers that have created drugs to level off mental illness should be praised. But it’s still difficult to get someone who has such problems to maintain a medicinal regimen on their own.
So, the next step is to try and search out the biological origins of these issues.

It’s horrific to think that STILL there are researchers so preoccupied with the interest in not having gay people around.
Yet, the murderers and sociopaths out there keep law enforcers way too busy and apparently these doctors, not busy enough.

The more I think about that, the more outraged I am.
How come NOBODY asks those who are professionals in the penal, justice or law enforcement system anything about this?
Gender bias, certainly another level of misogyny, is surely at the root of the research in this article.

Regan DuCasse

June 30th, 2010

Ya know…what if this backfires? And you get a huge increase in women who are obsessed with having babies.
Like OCTOMOM…or women who murder pregnant or recent mothers to steal their infants?
Oh wait…we already have lots of people like that!


June 30th, 2010

f a biological basis is found, and if a prenatal test is then developed, and if a successful treatment to reverse the sexual orientation to heterosexual is ever developed, we would support its use as we should unapologetically support the use of any appropriate means to avoid sexual temptation and the inevitable effects of sin.
—R. Albert Mohler, Jr. in 2004

on the Board of Focus on the Family and President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Edward Myhro

June 30th, 2010

So, once again being gay is something to which a cure is needed!
I remember when I told my mother I was gay, she asked what she had done wrong that had made me this way.
We are what we are and no attempt to change that through any medical means is going to make a difference.
Why do we as a society try to find way’s to fix it. We are not broken, just unaccepted for who we are.

Ed Myhro
Lincoln, CA


June 30th, 2010

Here I thought the point of having children was to foster the creation and subsequent happiness of another human being. Apparently these “parents” only have kids to please themselves.

Richard Rush

June 30th, 2010

PZ Myers has done a post on this today:

Oh, by the way — dexamethosone is a potent little steroid, and there may be a few trivial side-effects of the chronic exposure to the hormone to you while pregnant, including weight gain, diabetes, immunosuppression, hypertension, catabolic muscle atrophy, osteoporosis, and psychiatric disturbances, like mania, depression, and mood swings. It’s just one of those little sacrifices I’m sure you’ll be happy (remember—destiny, natural order, womanly role, etc.) to make in order that your baby grows up knowing her place as an appropriately obedient little receptacle of manly desires, and liking it.

There were over 200 comments as of 11:00 PM EDT.


June 30th, 2010

That’s very….uhm……weird. For a big and developed country such as America, how could those researcher’s logic on sexual orientation is quite ehm…..primitive.

Here in Indonesia, there was a nationwide poll about the origins of sexual orientation and people were asked about the possible origin of it. More than 60% said it must be something inborn. Only 4% said that it was a lifestyle choice, and the rest just doesn’t know.

And the reason to abort a homosexual fetus because they will be miserable in life? Oh please! Gay people are not miserable because they are gay, they are miserable because the society are homophobic. The society that needs to be fixed, not the gay ones.


June 30th, 2010

I knew once the religious embraced book learning the genocidal ramifications would become apparent all too quickly.


June 30th, 2010

These women are another couple of wacko’s. We are what GOD has made us. If they abort the ones that they think are gay . What will they do if the ones that do get born turn out to be gay too? God is the only one who decides the way people are to be not a bunch of idiots thst think that they can change his creations.
I agree that there are to many women that are having babies because the will get more welfare with them. Those are the ones who should be told that if they have more than one child they need to get a job to feed the next ones.
To many people out there wanting to play GOD.


June 30th, 2010

The rebuttal by Dreger brings home the biggest problem with this approach; it gives parents the ability to fashion clones of themselves (that will undoubtedly have all of the same regrets given their inability to develop as individuals apart from their parents). Most kids will take on the ideology and religion of their parents; how is this not enough? They don’t have any idea what they are suggesting as most parents I know loathe the possibility that their child should repeat their worst mistakes or entertain their most regrettable beliefs.

Tired of seeing kids indoctrinated into holding up signs at the rally of the week? Expect to see tons more of it. The death of pluralism…and we won’t even have the elite to blame.


June 30th, 2010

Did the Nazis look into this? It certainly would have advanced their agenda. This is ghastly!

My attitude has always been, if you’re going to have a child, you take them the way God made them. If you try to change them at one of the deepest levels of their being, you don’t love them, and you have no business raising that child. If you’re not willing to accept whatever challenges a child brings your way, then you need to man up and woman up before you even think about having a child.

And these people are interfering with the natural process children go through in the womb. They are the ones committing a (ahem) crime against nature.


July 1st, 2010

It’s ironic that Alice Dreger would be the one to raise the alarm about this. She had made defending Bailey something of a crusade not so long ago and apparently still intends to write a book bemoaning the influence of “activists” on scientific research using the criticism of Bailey as exhibit A.


July 1st, 2010

okay, straight bigots: please NEVER again try to tell us that gay couples want to adopt children only because they’re selfish. if we ever needed any proof that straight parents are thinking more of their own needs than of their childrens’ – here it is…


July 1st, 2010

New’s collaborator, Heino F. L. Meyer-Bahlburg, of Columbia University was on the DSM-IV Gender Identity Disorder Subcommittee.

It’s frightening to me that New’s collaborator has been in (and still is?) in a postion of such enormous influence in the DSM process on “GID.”

Stephanie Rixecker does critical research on this subject (she’s critical of the potential for eugenics) – she has an article in the Journal of Genocide Research from 2002 (volume 1) on queer biotechnologies – it’s worth a read.

There’s a whole sub-literature within genocide research called “gendercide” – this definitely qualifies.


July 1st, 2010

My ex-girlfriend has CAH, and it almost killed her as a child. She also has to take medications for it all her life. It can be a hard condition to deal with, so if people want to cure it… I say go for it. But do it for the right reasons: to decrease the physical suffering of the child. Not to cure the gay.

That said, the whole “THIS WILL CURE LESBIANS” jump is absolutely idiotic. I’m a lesbian, and I don’t have CAH. All the other lesbians I’ve known (except for my ex), don’t have CAH. In fact, classic CAH is pretty rare. Only 1 in 15,000 births have the classic form of the syndrome. What is this doc looking to do? Prevent ten lesbians?

Also, entirely at random… the sociopath + genetics thing… I think I remember sociopathy being classified as a personality disorder (Anti-Social Personality Disorder). It’s not really genetic. There are a lot of psychological disorders that aren’t. Course, it’s been a while since I’m read the DSM, so I could be wrong.


July 1st, 2010

This is what happens when you start down a slippery slope like abortion. If it’s ok for parents to abort their unborn children because having a baby right now is inconvenient for them, or they are too irresponsible to use birth control in the first place, how is that any different then them aborting thier child because having a gay kid is too inconvenient? People abort babies with genetic disorders & physical deformities, and kids that have congenital organ problems every day. I don’t see a lot of people complaining about how parents shouldn’t have the option to terminate those pregnancies.

Once you open the door for elective abortion you can’t try to shut it again, simply because you don’t like the reason the parents have chosen for aborting their kid. How is it more immoral for someone to abort a potentially gay baby than it is for them to abort one they just don’t want to be bothered to raise? If abortion is about a woman’s right to choose than she should be able to choose any reason she likes, right?


July 3rd, 2010

… Kristie? I hate to tell ya, but abortion isn’t the issue in this. I’m not even sure where you got that from. The issue is the doctor giving steroids to her patients during pregnancy with the hope that it will prevent lesbianism.

They’re not trying to off blobs of cells that might end up gay: they’re trying to prevent the gay from ever happening.

Priya Lynn

July 3rd, 2010

Kristie, you’re assuming all reasons for abortion are equally valid – they aren’t in my opinion. If a mother’s life is endangered or the fetus is severely deformed that is one thing. If the parents don’t have the financial means to raise a child, that’s another. If the parents just couldn’t be bothered to use birth control that is a yet less valid reason to have an abortion. But when parents want to abort a baby they’d otherwise be happy to raise because of a harmless characteristic like being short, having blonde hair or gay, well, that’s not a very valid reason at all.

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