News, 2 May 2001
2 May 2001
2 May 2001 The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) has been granted permission to mount a full legal challenge to the British government's decision to make the abortifacient morning-after pill available from pharmacists without a doctor's prescription. Contrary to the expectations of some observers, SPUC won its application for judicial review on appeal this morning before Mr Justice Scott Baker, who overruled the decision of an earlier judge. Mr Justice Scott Baker described SPUC's case as "strongly reasoned" and said that he was persuaded that there was an issue to be resolved. He acknowledged the fundamental nature of the issues raised by the action and ruled that the full judicial review hearing should take place within the next few months. SPUC had argued that since the morning-after pill can cause early abortions, its provision should come under the terms of the 1967 Abortion Act. Unless these terms were observed, the supply of the drug would contravene the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act. British government ministers have acknowledged that the morning-after pill can impede the successful implantation of a newly conceived human embryo, and SPUC's barrister demonstrated that the prohibition of induced miscarriage in the 1861 legislation could apply to pre-implantation embryos. Mr John Smeaton, national director of SPUC, said that he was "absolutely delighted" by the decision and was optimistic about the outcome of the judicial review itself. He said that the case centred upon "a major public policy issue affecting the health of women in this country, and in particular young women". A spokeswoman for the pro-abortion Family Planning Association expressed concern at the decision, which she described as "extraordinary". [Eye-witness, SPUC media release and BBC News online , 2 May] The president of Nicaragua has ordered the police to provide special protection for several Catholic bishops amid claims that a pro-abortion group has threatened to assassinate them. President Arnoldo Aleman gave the order after Cardinal Miguel Obando, archbishop of Managua, claimed to have uncovered a document which outlined a plot to kill campaigners against the legalisation of abortion. [EFE via COMTEX, Northern Light, 1 May ] A team of researchers in England has suggested that the size of a single gene may significantly affect the success rates of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment. El-Nasir Lalani, who led the team at London's Imperial College and Hammersmith Hospital, said that the MUC1 gene was shorter in infertile women. He conjectured that this might explain why only 20 percent of IVF embryos successfully implant in the womb after being transferred from the test-tube. [The Times, 27 April] Geneticists in the United States claim to have discovered a process which enables certain animals to re-grow severed limbs. The discovery could enable doctors to re-grow human limbs, or to repair damaged heart and liver tissue. Professor Juan Belmonte at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, said that a genetic signal which controls the ability of amphibians to re-grow limbs was permanently turned off in mammals except briefly at the embryonic stage. He suggested that if this genetic signal could be re-activated in humans, whole organs could be re-grown. [The Guardian, 29 April] This provides another potential alternative to the use of embryonic stem cells and so-called therapeutic cloning for the production of new body tissue.