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MPs reject compulsory abortion counselling

6 June 2007

A bill to make counselling compulsory for women seeking abortion has been rejected by 75 votes by British MPs. The proposals, which were sponsored by Conservative Ann Winterton, also included a mandatory "cooling off" period of a week and would have ensured that women were warned about the possible physical and mental ill-effects of abortion. The bill was defeated by 182 votes to 107. Mrs Winterton said: "I am saddened that the House of Commons apparently does not put women's health at the top of its agenda. Young people need time to think about things to make the right decision for them. [A woman] should be armed with the facts about the possible dis-benefits for her in later life. It's not patronising, it's actually being kind to the young woman." Opponents of the bill described it as "an attack on women's [re]productive rights." [Guardian, 5 June] Anthony Ozimic of SPUC commented: "We will be analysing the voting list very carefully, as it provides useful evidence for assessing the relative strengths of the pro-life and pro-abortion lobbies in Parliament. We remain concerned about any amendments on abortion that may be inserted into the government's draft Human Tissue and Embryos Bill. Given the continuing predominance of the pro-abortion lobby in Parliament, any abortion amendments passed by Parliament are likely to make the situation on abortion worse." Before the vote, two doctors told MPs that abortion could be a serious risk to women's mental health. Dr Trevor Stammers, a tutor in general practice at St George's University of London, said: "The most recent research has shown very clearly that abortion presents a serious risk to the long-term mental health of women and why it is therefore important to know which women are being offered abortion on mental health grounds." Dr Robert Balfour, a consultant gynaecologist, cited a Finnish study of 5,000 women between 1987 and 2000, which found that women who had an abortion were six times more likely to commit suicide than those who had given birth in the past year. He said: "We are now at a crossroads. In recognition of this mounting and overwhelming evidence it is essential that women are made aware of these risks. It is important that they receive adequate, informed counselling." [Channel 4, 4 June]

The British Medical Association (BMA) has said that women should be able to get abortion on demand and that it should be carried out by midwives and nurses. The BMA's ethics committee published a briefing paper supporting changes to the Abortion Act to speed up treatment for women who are less than three months pregnant. Under the proposals, a woman seeking an abortion could refer herself to an abortionist without going through a doctor. Tim Street, the Scottish director for the Family Planning Association, welcomed the proposals. He said: "We would welcome anything that makes it easier for women to get through the process once they have made a decision." Peter Kearney, spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland, said: "The changes they are proposing would probably make little difference in reality since we do have de facto abortion on demand in this country. The medical profession have failed quite abysmally to uphold the current legislation. Our view remains very clear on this, and that is that abortion is morally wrong and is not the answer to unwanted pregnancies." [The Scotsman, 6 June] Anthony Ozimic, SPUC political secretary, commented: "It is understandable that doctors are sick of abortion. It grates on their consciences and demeans them. Killing unborn babies is not what doctors become doctors for. But the BMA's call for others to take on this role is deplorable because it amounts to doctors dumping work on nurses - the gruesome work of killing unborn children. Nurses are already over-stretched and in short supply, and nursing is about caring, not killing. This would be a damaging blow to nursing." [SPUC, 6 June]

Cardinal George Pell has urged Catholic politicians in Australia to oppose a bill that would allow therapeutic cloning in New South Wales. The proposed law would permit the cloning of human embryos to be harvested for stem-cell research. The cardinal said: "It is a serious moral matter. Catholic politicians who vote for this legislation must realize that their voting has consequences for their place in the life of the Church." [CWNews on EWTN, 5 June]

The Syrian delegation to the United Nations' Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) has agreed that Syria will drop opposition to abortion. The legal adviser with the Syrian Commission for Family Affairs, Mona Asa'ad, said that the government also planned to promote contraception in order to combat "unwanted pregnancies". Ferdous Ara Begum, the Joint Secretary of the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs for the People's Republic of Bangladesh, said that Syria must implement "legal support" for women to "terminate unwanted pregnancies without penalty." [LifeSite, 5 June]

British scientists experimenting on human embryonic cells have developed a new technique that they hope may cure blindness. The surgery aims to combat age-related macular degeneration, which affects around 300,000 people in the UK. Researchers think that the first operation, which would transplant embryonic stem cells into the eye, could take place within five years. [Daily Mail, 6 June]

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