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Defending life from the moment of conception

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186,400 unborn babies were aborted last year

4 July 2006

The UK health ministry has issued the 2005 abortion statistics for England and Wales. The total number of abortions in 2005 was 186,400, compared with 185,700 in 2004, a rise of 0.4%. The abortion rate was highest at 32.0 per 1000, for women in the 20-24 year age group. The under 16 abortion rate was 3.7, and the under 18 rate 17.8 per 1000 women, both the same as in 2004. 89% of abortions were carried out at under 13 weeks' gestation. Medical abortions accounted for 24% of the total, compared with 19% in 2004. 1,900 abortions (1%) were carried out under ground E, which allows abortion to birth for babies who are disabled or "at risk" of being disabled. [Department of Health 4 July]

Members of parliament led by Dr Evan Harris, a member of the House of Commons science and technology committee, are to make a fresh attempt to end the right of fertility clinics to refuse treatment to single women and lesbians. This was described last year as "offensive" to unconventional families by the committee, and Dr Harris says it is "clearly indirect discrimination." [The Guardian 3 July] [Ananova 3 July] [The Scotsman 3 July]

A landmark lawsuit seeking to confirm a frozen embryo's right to life has opened in an Irish court. The case pits a 38 year old woman against her estranged husband, who is refusing to allow her to use the couple's frozen embryos, produced four years ago at a Dublin IVF clinic. The woman's lawyer, Mr Gerard Hogan, said the case could determine whether Ireland's 1983 constitutional amendment saying "the right to life of the unborn and ... by its laws to defend and vindicate that right" extends to frozen embryos. [Sign On San Diego 3 July] [Seattlepi 3 July] Mr. Pat Buckley, Director of the European Life Network, said "IVF procedures in themselves gravely interfere with human nature and in particular with the right to life of the unborn. However, the two embryos at the centre of this case must be given every possible opportunity to survive. These vulnerable human beings are currently imprisoned in a state of suspension. They must be afforded the protection of the Irish Constitution, which proclaims their right to life and guarantees by its laws to defend and vindicate that right."

A man who donated sperm with the condition that it should only be used to help heterosexual couples become parents has unwittingly fathered three children for lesbians, after staff at the London Women's Clinic ignored his wishes. Even after the clinic realised the error, it breached the terms of his consent again so that one of the lesbian couples could produce a sibling for their earlier child. The clinic has been unable to contact the man, who is currently unaware of what happened. [Daily Mail 2 July]

The United Nations Population Fund has launched a campaign to raise money to prevent and treat the 20,000 to 50,000 women, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia, who are affected by obstetric fistula, a pregnancy-related injury that causes pain and incontinence. The condition often causes women to be cast out by their communities. The United Nations is working with 35 countries on this issue, mainly in Africa, and hopes that governments will try to dissuade the marriage of young girls, who are at great risk of developing the condition in childbirth. [MediaCorp News 2 July]

At least 10 million female unborn children have been illegally aborted in India over the last 20 years by women desperate to bear a son. This means that each year half a million girls are aborted. According to a 1994 law medical staff are not allowed to use ultrasound scans to determine the sex of the unborn child, but this is widely ignored. Boys are considered socially desirable, while women who have girls are often shunned or even abused. States with the lowest ratios of girls to boys (820 girls to 1000 boys) are also the wealthiest. [Daily Mail 3 July]

Mrs Li Shimei, a seven months' pregnant Chinese woman, fell to her death at a hospital in Shuguang while trying to flee an attempt by local officials to force her to abort her unborn twins. She already had one child when she became pregnant with the twins, in violation of China's "one child per family" law. [Evening Echo News 1 July]

Cecelia Fire Thunder has been ousted as president of her reservation's tribal council after she proposed an abortion clinic on the Sioux reservation without the approval of the Oglala Sioux Tribal Council. Mr Will Peters, the council member who filed the complaint, said "The Lakota people were adamantly opposed to abortion on our homelands." He added that, under Lakota values, abortion is wrong and life is sacred. [The Guardian 30 June]

Britain's oldest pregnant woman, Patricia Rashbrook, who is 62 years old, is expected to give birth to her baby by caesarean section within the next 10 days. Ms Rashbrook, who has three adult children from her first marriage, was anxious to have a child with her second husband, who has no children of his own. She was turned down by British IVF clinics, but went to Rome where the controversial specialist Severino Antinori agreed to treat her, and he arranged for her to be referred to a Moscow clinic. [The Times 2 July]

Mrs Lauren Cohen of New York, aged 59, has become the oldest mother in the world to give birth to twins. The twins, and Mrs Cohen's older daughter, aged 18 months, were all conceived using donor eggs. [The Mirror 4 July]

This month the first children born under IVF legislation in Victoria, Australia, will reach 18 and gain the right to seek out the sperm and ovum donors who helped create them. Donors also gain less extensive rights to make a request for contact with their biological offspring. Victoria is thought to be the only place where legislation gives such rights. The legislation is said to be contentious, and Professor Gab Kovacs, medical director of Monash IVF, said the law caused moral dilemmas that could harm hundreds of families, since most people had not fully informed their teenage IVF offspring of the details of their creation. [Daily Telegraph 2 July] Paul Tully, SPUC general secretary commented: "IVF clinics know the legal rules that apply in Victoria. It is churlish of them to blame a law that treats test-tube children a little less like farm animals and more like human beings. Should the impact of commercial IVF be given a cloak of legal secrecy? IVF promoters fear it will reflect badly on them when the simple facts of people's origins are revealed."

Harvesting and storing of stem cells from the umbilical cords of newborn babies will soon be available to the Canadian public with the launch of Tissue Regeneration Therapeutics, in collaboration with the Create Cord Blood Bank. The stem cells could be effective in treating a wide range of muscular-skeletal, cardiac and immune conditions. [Medical News Today 2 July]

A study into the growth rates of British babies has shown that Scottish babies grow faster than others, leading researchers to suggest they are "hard-wired" with a tendency to obesity. Scientists think the diet of mothers may be influencing the weight of their unborn children and, as the Scottish diet is notoriously poor, Scottish babies are born with a genetic predisposition to gaining extra weight. [Sunday Times 2 July]

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