Committee inquiry into UK abortion law
21 June 2007
The House of Commons science and technology committee is holding an inquiry into the current UK law on abortion. The cross-party committee is looking at issues such as the upper time limit for abortion, whether to abolish the need for two doctors to sign abortion referral forms, the possibility of defining 'severe disability' in case of abortion on grounds of disability, and the feasibility of allowing nurses and midwives to perform first trimester abortions. The committee has asked for written evidence to be submitted by 2 September and will hold oral evidence sessions in the autumn. [Telegraph, 21 June, and Select Committee on Science and Technology, 20 June] Paul Tully, general secretary of SPUC, said: "The Science and Technology Committee has been angling for a long time to get the Abortion Act 'opened up' on the floor of the house. They know that this will lead to radical pro-abortion amendments, which will be tacitly welcomed by a Blair/Brown government. This is now a very grave danger if any abortion amendments are attached to the forthcoming Human Tissue and Embryos bill."
President Bush has vetoed legislation that would expand federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, stating: "I will not allow our nation to cross this moral line." Advocates of the bill now need a two-thirds majority in the Senate and House of Representatives to enable it nevertheless to become law, and they acknowledge a lack of support. Supporters argue that the research would use leftover IVF embryos that faced destruction whether or not they were used for scientific experiments. [Reuters, 20 June] A survey by Johns Hopkins University and Duke University of North Carolina has found that approximately 60% of people with IVF embryos in storage would be willing to donate unwanted embryos for research purposes, while 22% would allow their embryos to be adopted by other couples. [Reuters, 20 June]
Dr Evan Harris, a Liberal Democrat MP, has denied that women take abortion lightly in response to figures showing a rise in the number of abortions in England and Wales. Dr Harris claimed that the lessening of the stigma surrounding abortion and the increase in women returning to the workplace may play a part in more women seeking abortion, but he disputed claims that women used abortion as a form of contraception. [NetDoctor, 20 June]
A group of scientists have told a conference at Cairns, Australia, that they have cloned embryonic stem cells from monkey embryos. Shoukhrat Mitalipov of the Oregon National Primate Research Centre claimed success using a form of somatic cell nuclear transfer which, if verified, could take scientists a step closer to human cloning. Mitalipov's results are as yet unpublished and unconfirmed. [Reuters, 20 June]