Utah High School Biology Test Asks Students if Mother Should Have an Abortion

A 40-year-old mother of two is pregnant with a child who has been diagnosed with Down syndrome. Her doctor has recommended termination of the pregnancy and the parents call the family together to discuss the pregnancy. How should the family decide what to do next?

Students who were taking a final exam for their biology class at an online public high school in Utah were asked to weigh in on this difficult question.


A high school in Utah is under fire for a biology test question that appears to promote abortion.

The question has to do with a genetic test a fictional couple had done to determine if their unborn baby had any disabilities. After the test indicates the unborn child has Down syndrome, a range of possible actions are provided for students to determine which is best — and none of the involve giving birth and loving the bay despite the supposed disability.

The potential answers include: waiting and redoing the genetic testing closer to the baby’s due date; trusting the scientific knowledge of the doctor and going forward with an abortion; prioritizing the wishes of the mother; and considering aspects like religious beliefs, financial burden and the effect on other family members before making “the best decision for everyone.”

A pro-life option is not included.

Note that students were not given the option of choosing an answer such as “recognize that all life is sacred and should always be protected” or “consider that individuals with disabilities are no less human than others in society” or “emphasize that Down syndrome babies are vulnerable and deserve our protection.”

Cody Okerlund, a sophomore at Electronic High School, took a picture of the question with his cell phone during the test.

Principal Kathleen Webb told The Salt Lake Tribune that she wasn’t sure where the question originated, but that it didn’t appear to have been written by the school’s biology teacher. She said it was removed from the school’s computer-based tests after parent complaints.

“The instant that I found it with [the teacher], we removed it from the test bank,” Webb said. “It is not available to students.”

Webb didn’t fault the student for alerting school administrators to the inappropriate question, even though photographing testing materials is a violation of school rules.

“In order of importance, the most important part is the students’ welfare,” she said.

At least the principal recognized that the question was inappropriate. However, it’s shocking that neither the teacher nor the principal reviewed the questions before the students saw them. This points to one of the hazards of online testing, where questions come from a central test bank. Common Core opponents have been highlighting this concern about the nationalized testing systems that we’re moving toward, where only a couple of providers supply all of the tests and students are tested primarily online for their high stakes annual assessments.

One has to wonder if the question was somehow tied to the curriculum. Did the students receive instructions during the course about the morality of abortion or about the value of the lives of children with disabilities? I think most parents would say these discussions are best left to families and churches. If these topics are talked about in school, they should be done in ethics classes. I think most parents would agree that the morality of abortion is not a topic that falls within the purview of a basic biology course, and students should not have their grades dependent on giving the “right” answer (whatever that is in this day and age) to an open-ended abortion question on a multiple choice test.

Okerlund’s mother, Lorri Higgins Okerlund, told the Tribune she was proud of her son for speaking out about the test.

“This is a public school,” she said. “We have every right to know what our kids are being asked and learning.”

Darned right you do. But realistically, there’s no way you’re going to know everything that goes on in your child’s school at all times. Unles you’re in the classroom every minute of every day, you’re going to miss things—like intrusive, inappropriate questions, or offhanded (or deliberate) statements that undermine your family’s values. Like it or not, you’re at the mercy of your child’s teachers and the school’s administrators. Be as involved as you can, but also keep the lines of communication open with your kids. And most important, teach your values constantly—and aggressively—at home.