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Labour MPs threaten to rebel on embryo vote

10 March 2008

Some Catholic Labour MPs who oppose the UK government's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill may have rejected an offer to let them to abstain from voting and, instead, they want to vote against the measure. Mr Greg Pope, MP for Hyndburn, said "I have had hundreds of letters from constituents about human-animal hybrids. The idea that I turn round to them and say the chief whip has given me the day off from voting will cut no ice at all." [Telegraph, 8 March, and Daily Mail, 10 March] Mr Gordon Brown, prime minister, has stated that the bill is Government business, and any individual with a particular issue should discuss it with the chief whip. [Downing Street Says, 6 March]

There are moves to use the embryology bill to permit the use of artificial gametes in IVF treatment, creating human sperm from the stem cells of a would-be parent. In principle, sperm cells could be created from stem cells, such as bone marrow cells, from a man or a woman who was infertile, creating the possibility of a man or woman becoming the genetic father of an IVF baby. Dr Allan Pacey of the British Fertility Society says there would be no funding for research into the technique if its eventual use was not feasible. Embryonic mice created by this technique have been born but died prematurely. Josephine Quintavalle of Comment on Reproductive Ethics warned that this could lead to the "ultimate incest" of a woman becoming both mother and father to a child. [Observer, 9 March, and Mail on Sunday, 9 March] A clause in the bill has caused controversy among the deaf community, since it bans IVF patients from selecting deaf embryos for implantation and discarding hearing embryos, while permitting the reverse. [Observer, 9 March]

Late-term abortions in Britain have risen steeply in the past decade, the Telegraph reports. The number of abortions carried out at more than 20 weeks' gestation rose from 2,041 to 2,948 between 1997 and 2006. Around a quarter of these abortions were carried because of foetal disability. [Telegraph, 8 March]

SPUC has issued a world-wide prayer-alert to protect Northern Ireland. John Smeaton, national director, writes from the province of the danger that the UK parliament could extend Britain's liberal abortion law to Northern Ireland. That law: "... is so overwhelmingly opposed by the politicians and public alike here." He also warns that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology bill, if passed, could be copied in other countries, as has other UK anti-life law. [SPUC director's blog, 10 March]

The pope has included destructive human embryonic research in a list of sinful practices relevant to the modern world. [Times, 10 March] In a meeting with the prime minister of Luxembourg last week, Benedict XVI reportedly discussed the issue of euthanasia. A new law permitting euthanasia is due to come into effect in Luxembourg before the summer. [Reuters, 7 March]

The government of Colombia has launched a plan to give free morning-after pills to all women of reproductive age who request it. The scheme is not expected to come fully into effect until next year. [LifeSite, 7 March]

Pro-abortion activists in Italy have launched a campaign to oppose moves to restrict abortion by lowering the time limit. Promoters of the campaign describe the proposed restrictions as a "clerical assault on women". Although abortion is legal in Italy up to 12 weeks' gestation, and up to 24 weeks in cases of foetal handicap, medical professionals are allowed conscientious objection and official figures report that 60% of gynaecologists invoke it. [Inter Press Service, 7 March]

Marie Stopes International, the abortion provider, has launched a telephone counselling line for women considering abortion and for those who have had abortions at the organisation's clinics. A spokeswoman said, "telephone counselling ... dramatically reduces the time a woman has to spend at a clinic which is critical, particularly for post-abortion counselling. By using the telephone counselling service, women can discuss their feelings without travelling back to the clinic where they had the procedure, which can be a difficult emotional journey." [PA on Channel 4, 9 March, and Independent, 10 March]

The Oxfam organisation has called attention to the high rates of maternal mortality in developing countries, saying that richer countries have failed to provide the aid which was promised eight years ago as part of the Millennium Development Goals to help reduce deaths in pregnancy and childbirth. Oxfam identifies a shortage of midwives as a major reason for the problem. [Oxfam, 7 March] Some of the comparative figures for maternal mortality tabulated in the article are very speculative.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has given £15 million for research into malaria in pregnancy, which carries a high risk of death for mothers and children. The donation was received by Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, England. [PA on Pendle Today, 7 March]

The Guardian newspaper has run a feature on a woman who has refused pre-natal tests for Down's syndrome. Ms Rebecca Atkinson, who has Usher syndrome which causes deafness and gradual loss of sight, said that she declined screening because to abort a child because it had a disability "would be to negate my worth and send myself to the bottom of the pile." Her views on abortion for disability are in conflict with her approach to abortion generally: "I've always been a pro-choice feminist," she says. [Guardian, 10 March]

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