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News, 22 August 2002

22 August 2002

22 August 2002 Sainsbury's, a British supermarket chain, has confirmed that its stores are providing the abortifacient morning-after pill free of charge to young teenage girls. Just over a month after Tesco, another supermarket chain, announced that it was abandoning its own involvement in a government initiative to distribute the drug free of charge to teenagers, Sainsbury's confirmed that five of its stores in South Wales, Greater Manchester and Bristol had entered into partnerships with local health authorities to make the morning-after pill available to girls under 16. In a letter to the Life charity, Sainsbury's chief executive Sir Peter Davis wrote: "We feel it is a responsibility to offer choice to our customers. We don't feel that it is right for us to tell our customers what they should or shouldn't buy, or indeed how they should or shouldn't act." Both Life and SPUC have strongly criticised Sainsbury's for the move and have pledged to campaign against the provision of morning-after pills to children by Sainsbury's, just as they did successfully with respect to Tesco. [SPUC media release, 22 August ; Daily Mail, 22 August] Australia's Capital Territory (ACT) has become the first part of the country formally to decriminalise abortion. The ACT's assembly yesterday approved legislation by nine votes to eight which removed abortion from the Crimes Act. The legislation also repealed a former law which had required women to receive information and undergo a 48-hour cooling off period before an abortion. Another bill establishing positive statutory regulation of abortion was passed by 11 votes to six. Abortion is already widely available throughout Australia, although outside ACT it remains a criminal act which is allowed on the basis of certain legal precedents or liberal statutory definitions. [The Australian , Canberra Times and Daily Telegraph , 22 August] The first adult in the UK to receive a blood transplant rich in stem cells from a baby's umbilical cord to treat leukaemia has returned home from hospital and is making good progress. Stephen Knox from Darlington in north-east England underwent chemotherapy and radiotherapy to kill off his own bone marrow, and then received an injection of mixed cord blood. The stem cells started to grow into new bone marrow within 15 days of the injection. [icNewcastle, 22 August ] Obtaining stem cells from umbilical cord blood is an ethical alternative to the destructive extraction of stem cells from embryos. Three groups representing women and doctors have filed documents with the US Food and Drug Administration calling for the distribution of RU-486 to be suspended pending a full review of its safety. Concerned Women for America, the Christian Medical Association and the American Association of Pro Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists presented an official 90-page "citizens' petition" based on 22 months of research which outlined significant health and safety concerns associated with the RU-486 abortion drug, also known as Mifeprex. Since RU-486 was licensed in the USA in September 2000, it has been blamed for two adult deaths and serious health complications in other woman such as haemorrhaging, infections and heart attacks. [Washington Times, 22 August ; LifeSite, 21 August ] An Australian cabinet minister has argued strongly against the legislation to authorise destructive stem cell research on human embryos currently being debated in parliament. Mr Tony Abbott said that the subjects of embryo research could not answer back, and likened it to euthanasia insofar as both involved deliberate killing. He said: "At the very least, it seems to me that the embryo is worthy of respect... it cannot be treated with no more respect than a laboratory rat destined to be sacrificed for the sake of science." [News.com.au, 21 August ] The Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines has warned politicians not to promote population control programmes. Archbishop Orlando Quevedo, president of the country's bishops' conference, said that political candidates who supported the use of artificial birth control methods [many of which can be abortifacient] would face a backlash from voters at the next election in 2004. 60 members of the national legislature recently called on the government to establish a population control programme and ensure "reproductive rights", although President Gloria Attoyo has insisted that her government will only promote natural family planning. [AFP, 18 August; news digests for 9 August 2002 and 6 February 2001 ]

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