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Defending life from the moment of conception

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Portugese PM vows to liberalise abortion despite referendum result

12 February 2007

The prime minister of Portugal, Jose Socrates, has said that he will use parliament to liberalise Portugal's abortion laws, despite the failure of a referendum yesterday. Although 60% of voters were in favour of the changes, with 40% against, the turnout did not reach the required 50% of qualified voters, nullifying the referendum. However, Mr Socrates said that "Portugal will now tackle abortion in the same way as most other developed European countries". The Social Democratic Party, the main opposition party, has said that it will not oppose the proposed legislation. Currently, abortion is allowed only in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy, for cases of rape, foetal deformity, and danger to the mother's health. [CNN, 12 February] SPUC has termed the attitude of Portugal's political class anti-democratic and abhorrent following the result of the referendum on abortion on demand. Anthony Ozimic, SPUC political secretary, commented: "It is a dereliction of duty by politicians to deny the right to life to the unborn and therefore deny them the right to participate in society. In a democratic country, everyone is encouraged to exercise a right to participate in the political process for the common good. Denying protection of the right to life of the weak, vulnerable and voiceless is abhorrent. Those politicians in Portugal who claim to be Catholic should note the Church's teaching on the participation of Catholics in political life, reaffirmed in 2002 by the then-Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. It is not permissible to use democracy as an excuse to abandon one's responsibility for ensuring legal protection of the unborn." SPUC also condemned the tactics of pro-abortion campaigners, who have continued to use unfounded stories of tens of thousands of alleged illegal abortions, and said that journalists who failed to check the facts behind such claims were irresponsible. [SPUC, 12 February]

Pro-life groups in Wales have expressed concern over the number of women apparently using abortion as a form of contraception. A poll carried out for Schering Health Care (which manufactures contraceptives) found that one in five Welsh women in their late 20s or early 30s had had an abortion while in a long term relationship, while 25% of Welsh women surveyed who had had abortions had forgotten to take the contraceptive pill, while 25% had not been using contraception. Janet Thomas, the South Wales spokesman for SPUC commented "What we're fighting against is the notion of unplanned children as an inconvenience. The problem is our society has convinced people they can be selfish and only think of themselves....It's the 'I Want' generation". [icWales, 12 February

The Family Planning Association (FPA) has announced that people are ignorant about sex to mark the beginning of its 'Contraceptive Awareness Week', the BBC reports. A survey of 495 adults over 18 was conducted by Gfk NOP using questions based on calls to the FPA's helpline. The BBC also reports on a survey by Coventry University researchers of 3,800 young people aged 13-16. A quarter of them were sexually active, and of those, just under half said they had not used contraceptives every time they had sex. [BBC, 12 February; FPA 12 February] The Coventry research is illuminated by last month's Glasgow study which found that adults seeking abortion were as likely as teenagers to report that they had had non-contraceptive intercourse. Nearly 1000 women requesting abortions at the Southern General Hospital were questioned. The paper was published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. [BBC, 22 Jan]

A specialist in women's health, responding to Schering's survey on contraception, has claimed that the research shows that many women might be better served by long-term contraceptive methods than the daily oral pill. Dr Dawn Harper "These methods can usually be fitted in five minutes by a healthcare professional. Once fitted, they can be forgotten about for anything up to ten years, leaving women free to enjoy their lives in the knowledge they are protected from pregnancy". A LIFE spokesman said "We are not surprised that a contraceptive company is calling for increased sales of contraception... we must be cautious about this research which is interesting because of who commissioned it rather than what it tells us about crisis pregnancy." [NetDoctor, 12 February]

NHS Trusts are setting minimum age restrictions for IVF, The Observer reports. In some areas, couples will not normally be given fertility treatment on the NHS unless the woman is in her late thirties and nearing the age limit for free IVF of 40. One reason for the lower age limit may be the government's recommendation that every eligible patient receive one free IVF cycle, a target healthcare trusts can only meet financially by setting tighter eligibility restrictions. MPs asked questions on the issue in the House of Commons last week. [Observer, 11 February] Gloucestershire Primary Health Care Trust has said it will stop funding IVF, apart from exceptional cases, as part of an attempt to reduce expenditure by £40 million. [BBC, 12 February]

Experts believe that over 300 babies a year are being born in Scotland with health damaged by their mothers drinking alcohol during pregnancy, although only a small number of these cases are diagnosed and recorded. Dr Maggie Watts, of Scottish Association of Alcohol Action Teams, said that - based on studies from other countries - an estimated 37 children per year are born with foetal alcohol syndrome, and 340 with foetal alcohol spectrum disorders. [Scotsman, 12 February]

Maternity services are under pressure in Chinese hospitals as the next Chinese year (beginning 17th February) brings a 'baby boom'. Because the year will be a 'year of the pig', and also a 'golden year' in the Chinese calendar cycle, babies born during it are popularly believed to be extra lucky. Hospital authorities say many parents have deliberately targeted this year to have the one child permitted them under China's population control authority, and 150,000 babies are expected in Beijing alone (as compared to 129,000 last year). [Telegraph, 11 February]

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