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Defending life from the moment of conception

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weekly update, 12 March

12 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 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]

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