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Defending life from the moment of conception

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News, 19 December 2002

19 December 2002

19 December 2002 Researchers in Australia may have discovered why babies who are exposed to tobacco smoke in the womb are at an increased risk of cot death. Previous studies have indicated that maternal smoking during pregnancy could be implicated in 30% of cot deaths, and now scientists at the Royal Children's Hospital in Herston, Queensland, have found that this might be explained by the fact that exposure to tobacco smoke in the womb slows down a baby's arousal response during deep sleep. It is thought that tobacco smoke may reduce the supply of oxygen to an unborn child's brain and stunt mental development, or that nicotine may disrupt the body's mechanisms for dealing with stress. [BBC News online, 19 December ] The Scottish Executive has issued a directive designed to ensure that all pregnant women will be screened for HIV from next April. At present, women in Scotland have to opt in for an HIV test, but the new system will mean that HIV testing will be offered routinely and those not wanting to be tested will have to refuse. Women will be given the tests at their first booking clinic, usually between six and 10 weeks into pregnancy, as is already the practice in England and Wales. Modern medication can reduce the risk of an HIV-positive woman passing on the virus to her unborn child by nearly 20 fold. [The Scotsman, 18 December] Pre-natal testing for syphilis, hepatitis B and rubella is already routine, although positive results often mean that women are urged to have an abortion. Marie Stopes International, a major UK-based promoter and provider of abortion around the world, is encouraging women in London to obtain abortifacient morning-after pills from its branch in Ealing ahead of Christmas and New Year festivities. An MSI spokesman said: "Many people lose their inhibitions at this time of year, so our message is to be responsible and be prepared." [This is Local London, 17 December] American research has suggested that IVF babies may be at a far higher risk of a certain developmental anomaly that babies who were conceived naturally. Professor Andrew Feinberg at the John Hopkins School of Medicine found that 5% of those in a registry of 65 children with Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome (BWS) had been born as a result of IVF treatment, while only 0.8% of US births occur after IVF treatment generally. The effects of BWS include enlarged tongues and a predisposition to rare cancers. [Pro-Life Infonet , 18 December] A major study into the health of those born after IVF treatment was launched in the UK in October, although only a tiny fraction of those created in IVF procedures are lucky enough to survive up to birth. More concerns have been raised about high rates of sex-selective abortion in India. An Indian national newspaper has reported that female foeticide is now on the rise in Hoshiarpur, the district which previously had the most healthy sex ratio in Punjab state. There are currently 935 women for every 1,000 men in Hoshiarpur, compared to a state average of just 874 women for every 1,000 men. However, Hoshiarpur's civil surgeon is now investigating a scan centre which allegedly provides illegal sex determination tests for women who are referred to it by private doctors. [Times of India, 18 December ]

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