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Defending life from the moment of conception

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Paisley warns of Trojan Horse to liberalise abortion in Northern Ireland

5 April 2008

Ian Paisley, the first minister of Northern Ireland, has warned that MPs may attempt to use the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill as a way to legalise abortion in Northern Ireland. Speaking at prime minister's question time, he said: "Would you give the people of Northern Ireland the assurance that no attempt will be supported by the government to countenance any attempt to use the embryo bill to bring in by the backdoor legislation that would legalise abortion in Northern Ireland? All parties in Northern Ireland are opposed to this and surely that decision should be made by Stormont and by Stormont alone." Gordon Brown replied: "The matter of an amendment on abortion to the embryology bill is a matter for this House. I do not believe the House will wish to change its mind on these issues but it is a matter of a free vote of the House of Commons." [ePolitix, 26 March] Comment: Mr Brown did not give the assurance that Dr Paisley sought, which strongly indicates that the government is prepared to countenance such a move.

Sir Ian Wilmut, the British stem cell researcher who led the team that created the clone Dolly the sheep, has called on MPs to support the creation of human-animal hybrid embryos. He said: "The human embryos people are working with are smaller than a grain of sand. You need a microscope to see them. They are weeks from the stage where there would be a nervous system and the ability to be aware. To me, and I suspect the majority of people in 21st century Britain, a human being is someone who is aware. The fundamental thing is that [the hybrid embryo] is not a human being." A spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland said: "At one point, we were all just a small bundle of cells. At that stage, while not recognisably human, these cells are still human life." [Scotsman, 27 March]

Leading Jews in Britain are considering their position on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill after the news of a free vote for MPs on parts of it. Louise Ellman, Labour MP for Liverpool Riverside, said: "My main concern is to alleviate human suffering and I am considering all the points that have been put to me." Lee Scott, Conservative MP for Ilford North said: "On the part about cloning human and animal embryos I have problems, but there are other parts which I will listen to and then decide." Professor David Katz, chairman of the Jewish Medical Association and executive member of the Board of Deputies, told the Jewish News: "Of course there are a variety of different views about this bill amongst academics and in the Jewish community. This is why it is felt that this should be a matter of free conscience rather than party politics." [Totally Jewish, 27 March]

The Anglican bishop of St Albans has welcomed Gordon Brown's concession allowing Labour MPs to oppose certain elements in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, but has said that he should have made the whole bill subject to a free vote. The Right Reverend Christopher Herbert said: "I welcome what the prime minister has done so far, but wish he had gone further and made the whole bill the subject of a free vote. We need conscience to be part of voting patterns in a democracy. Decisions on these issues need to be informed by ethical discussions that consider benefit and detriment. They should not just rely on pragmatism that assumes that what can be done should be done." [This is Hertfordshire, 26 March] The bishop, a member of the House of Lords, criticised the bill during its passage there.

The state of Nebraska has banned public funding of research that creates or destroys embryos for stem cell research. The bill, which also allows grants to be given to institutions doing stem cell research without using embryos, was passed by 48 out of 49 senators and signed by the governor. [LifeSite, 26 March]

Hundreds of children born within the legal limit for abortion survive, according to figures from the British government. Statistics from the Department of Health show that 909 children were born between 22 and 24 weeks of pregnancy during 2005, of whom 250 survived for at least a year. Some MPs and pro-life activists are calling for a lower time limit to abortion. [Telegraph, 27 March] Anthony Ozimic, political spokesman of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said: "We welcome scientific advances ...but viability of unborn children should not be used as a guide for reforming the law on abortion. Of prior importance is the Human Fertilisation and Embryology bill, which contains a plethora of measures that will lead to the abuse, manipulation and destruction of countless more embryonic human lives."

An independent member of the Scottish parliament has said that she wants the right to end her own life. Ms Margo Macdonald, who has Parkinson's disease, said: "As you know, I have a degenerative condition, and I would like to have the right to determine by how much my capacity to fulfil my social functions, my familial functions, my personal functions is going to be truncated. And I would like to have the ability to take that decision. I don't want to burden any doctor ... friend or family member." [Scotsman, 27 March]

An American who underwent a sex-change operation is now reportedly pregnant with a baby girl. Thomas Beatie, born Tracy Lagondino, who is now legally male and "married" to a woman, is due to give birth in July. Beatie asserts that having the child is a reproductive right, which she did not give up when she became a man. Neighbours of the couple expressed scepticism about the pregnancy. [Times, 26 March]

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