Saturday 31 May 2008

Tony Blair "did not strictly follow the Catholic line" on abortion! says Our Faith on Sunday

Many Catholic parish priests reproduce reflections entitled "Our Faith on Sunday" on the reverse side of their weekly bulletins. Fr Stephen Boyle (picture right), parish priest of The Good Shepherd, in New Addington, Surrey, contacted me to ask for my comment about this week's edition - on the feast of the Visitation.

This Sunday, the author of "Our Faith on Sunday" refers to Ann Widdecombe MP's "begrudging comment" about Tony Blair's reception into the Catholic church and to her concern that Mr Blair had not strictly followed the Catholic line on a variety of issues in his voting record as Prime Minister, most notably on abortion.

"Not strictly followed the Catholic line?" Frankly, that's putting it mildly - and a lot more mildly than Ann Widdecombe rightly put it.

In my letter to Tony Blair (11th January 2008) on behalf of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, I wrote:

We most grateful if, in the light of your reception into the Catholic Church, you would tell us if you now repudiate:

• voting in 1990 for abortion up to birth three times during Parliamentary debates on what became the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990;
• personally endorsing your government’s policy of supplying abortion and birth control drugs and devices to schoolgirls as young as 11 without parental knowledge or consent;
• your government introducing legislation which has led to a lawii which allows, and in certain circumstances requires, doctors to starve and dehydrate to death vulnerable patients;
• your government’s commitment to the promotion of abortion on demand as a universal fundamental human right.
• personally championing destructive experiments on human embryos."

The author of "Our Faith on Sunday" asks "Is a Catholic politician bound to vote as illegal everything of which the Catholic Church disapproves?" to which the answer is clearly "No" . However, on abortion the Church teaches that Catholic politicians are morally bound to vote against it.

Pope John Paul II writes in Evangelium Vitae:

In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to 'take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law, or vote for it'*.

"Our Faith on Sunday" finishes by suggesting that insisting that politicians have a moral obligation to vote to make abortion illegal "could be counter-productive".

I encourage Catholics who read "Our Faith on Sunday" to write to the author to ask the following question: If Tony Blair had voted for laws permitting the killing of Catholics or Jews or people from ethnic minorities or lethal experimentation on them, would Catholics be right to expect him publicly to renounce such laws and to repudiate his role in passing such legislation before being received into the Church? Is it counter-productive to insist that politicians like Tony Blair vote to make such killings illegal?

By the way, what a way for "Our Faith on Sunday" to celebrate the feast of the Visitation, when the unborn St. John the Baptist leapt for joy in his mother's womb - greeting the unborn Jesus Who may not even have implanted in the lining of Mary's womb! Jesus may have been the same age as the embryos upon whom lethal experimentation is carried out under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act for which Tony Blair voted in 1990 - and which he continued to champion shortly before being received into the Catholic church.

*Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration on Procured Abortion (18 November 1974), No. 22: AAS 66 (1974), 744.

Friday 30 May 2008

Pope Benedict's Humanae Vitae address in full

I blogged earlier this month on Pope Benedict's ringing endorsement of Humanae Vitae.

The full text of his address to participants at the International Congress on Paul VI's Encyclical Humanae Vitae and its relevance today has now been published.

My thoughts on the supreme importance of Humanae Vitae for the pro-life movement, no matter what our faith may be, are here.

Tuesday 27 May 2008

Beware of playing abortion party politics

Some of the media have been spinning the story that, under a Conservative government, there might be restrictions to the abortion law. Pro-lifers need to be very wary of such spin. It may end in tears.

One of the main protagonists for reducing the upper limit for abortion in the recent parliamentary debates was Nadine Dorries, the Conservative MP for Mid-Bedfordshire. She is openly pro-abortion in the early months of pregnancy. In the House of Commons abortion debate on 20th May, she said: “I should like to make my personal position clear, because it has been misrepresented in the past few days. I am pro-choice. I support a woman’s right to abortion – to faster, safer and quicker abortion than is available at the moment, particularly in the first trimester. That is my position.”

It was under a Conservative government that Parliament voted for abortion up to birth. David Cameron, the current leader of the Conservative party, is on record as saying with regard to such abortions that the current law should remain.

It was also under a Conservative government that the upper limit for abortions was raised for abortions generally; and human embryo research was legalized, backed by the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.

Today, David Cameron backs human animal hybrid embryos and “saviour siblings” whereby rejected embryos, who won’t provide an appropriate tissue match for their sibling, are destroyed.

People mistakenly claim that the time limit was reduced from 28 weeks to 24 weeks by the Conservative government’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990. However, because of amendments to the law made by the 1990 Act, the previous limit, which was based on the capability of the baby to be born alive – not a fixed number of weeks (28) – was abolished and a 24 week time limit was introduced but only for certain cases. In other cases (including where the abortion is carried out on the grounds of disability) abortions can be and are now carried out right up to the time of birth.

Every child who had reached the stage of development of being “capable of being born alive” was protected by the pre-1990 law. Since 1990 that protection has been removed. So the effect of the 1990 Act was to increase the time limit for abortion in most instances and in many cases right up to birth.

It was pro-lifers who pressed for the 1990 Act to contain provisions relating to abortion, in the hope of being able to insert some restrictions, particularly early time limits. Sadly this tactic backfired, resulting in a less, not more, restrictive abortion law.

SPUC said at the time: “… Kenneth Clarke [the secretary of state for health] was … responsible for giving MPs a misleading concept of the clause allowing abortion up to birth when it was debated at the Report Stage of the Bill on 21st June [1990] … He informed the House ‘the doctor will terminate a pregnancy while attempting to save the life of the baby if he can’. However, termination such circumstances has always been allowed but previously it has been described as ‘induced birth’. For the first time it can be legally categorised as abortion, and, whatever the claims of Mr Clarke, there is now no law compelling a doctor to save the life of the child.” (Human Concern, summer 1990)

Fast forward to 12th May 2008, and the Second Reading of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. The shadow Conservative Secretary of State for Health, Andrew Lansley, demonstrated an equally frightening nonchalance towards the right to life of unborn children when he called for the law to be changed to allow early abortions to be made more easily available, as I blogged that week.

Dr Helen Watt, the director of the Linacre Centre for healthcare ethics, was right to say recently (in relation to the various life issues under consideration in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill): “We get the Parliament we deserve, and should all give a top priority at the next election to these issues, looking less to party affiliation and more to the voting records of individual MPs”. (Catholic News Agency report)

SPUC agrees. SPUC is political but not party political – and that will reflect our policy at the next general election.

Monday 26 May 2008

Promises of cures from cloned human embryonic stem cell research misguided - Dr James L. Sherley

James L. Sherley, M.D., Ph.D. is a Senior Scientist at BostonBiomedical Research Institute in the U. S. He visited London recently as a guest of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales. Last week, he sent me the following reflections on his visit and on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill:

"When I listened to the BBC's 45-minute re-broadcast titled 'Embryology: The Science and the Ethics' [17th May 2008] back in my own home inBoston in the United States, I hoped that MPs debating and voting on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFE) Bill this week in the UK were diligent enough to get and listen to the full 2-hour debate titled, "Science, Ethics, and Faith: A Conversation About theHFE Bill," sponsored by the Welcome Trust on Friday May 16. Even the 2-hour "conversation" is inadequate, but at least it does not have the added deficits of the editing knife.

"There are many more crucial issues that MPs should weigh with reason, before they vote on this landmark human rights bill. My arrival in London Wednesday night was clouded with a sense of déjàvu. Just 19 months earlier, I made a very similar trip to the Australian Parliament in Canberra. I was impressed by the MPs that I met there who were working diligently for their constituents to better understand human embryo cloning research, whose fate in Australia they decided soon thereafter.

"In my capacity as a practising stem cell biologist, my message was simple. Human embryonic stem cells, whether extracted from cloned embryos or fromIVF embryos, cannot work in the bodies of children or adults. Like the UK, in Australia, research with IVF embryos was already permissible. So, against that precedent, the added truth that cloned embryos, like cloned animals, were too defective to be used to develop medical therapies designed to work inside or outside patients' bodies did not prevail. So now, 19 months later, Australian scientists are still actively destroying nascent humans while wasting research dollars on studies that are flawed in concept and practice.

"My visit to London, as to Canberra, was at the invitation of citizens there concerned about both the disregard by some for the humanity of human embryos and the needs of UK and world citizens who suffer from debilitating ailments for which there are currently no effective treatments. I was asked to share additional expertise and insights to MPs as they approached their vote on the HFE Bill, which if approved would allow scientists to make "admixed" embryos by putting the human genetic material into the eggs of animals like cows, monkeys, and rabbits.

"The guiding principle for previous public deliberations on permission for these experiments has been whether they are 'necessary and desirable.' Supporters of the HFE Bill argue that the experiments are necessary to address the shortage of human eggs that limits embryonic stem cell cloning research, and desirable because it keeps alive the possibility of cures from cloned human embryonic stem cell research.

"I came to London to empower MPs and the UK public to act responsibly (to themselves, to their loved ones, and to nascent humans) about what they already know or at least suspect. There are serious flaws in the stated motivation for the argument to pass to HFE Bill.
"The promises of cures from cloned human embryonic stem cell research are indeed misguided. Whether extracted from IVF embryos or cloned embryos, embryonic stem cells are unable to mend tissues and organs. Only adult stem cells have this ability, and they possess it naturally. This special property of adult stem cells is the reason that all current effective human medical therapies based on stem cells utilize adult stem cells, and none utilize embryonic stem cells. This was true 19 months ago when I visited Canberra, and it is still true now. I remind everyone, including my scientist colleagues, that the best test of the worth of the promises of scientific reports, like all other promises, is time. Many more years from now, this picture will not change. Embryonic stem cells lack the natural biological properties required for repair of non-embryonic tissues.

"Beyond the motivation by cloned embryonic stem cell research being a basic flaw, there is a baser problem with the admixed human embryo experiments that would be promoted by the HFE Bill. They are scientifically unsound and absurd. Frankly, I am quite amused (and many other scientists are too!) that anyone wishing to present themselves as scientifically excellent and socially responsible would promote such experiments. Perhaps, they have just lost their way or are blinded by a light that only they see.

"Animal cloning is quite inefficient. It is very difficult to get an egg, which has had its own genetic material extracted, to correctly translate the genetic material of a body cell of the same exact animal type. Human cloning, which has now been attempted by several groups, has proven formidable. So, no one needs a scientific degree to know just about how likely an animal egg is going to be able to correctly translate genetic material from a human body cell. Most likely, not at all.

"Yet, the scientists and physician MPs (like Evan Harris, whom I had the dubious distinction of meeting), who push for the HFE Bill, tell us that these admixed embryos will help us to improve human cloning and better understand human diseases. Really?! The question that the UK public and other MPs need to put to these scientists and this physician MP is, "What is really motivating your vacation of reason?" Of course, ridiculous scientific investigations are only symptoms of the diseased nature of the HFE Bill.

"Many UK citizens, including my hosts, are concerned about the moral gangrene promoted by the bill. I am as well. In countries like the U.S., Australia, and the UK, that have legalized abortion of fully-formed unborn children, it is a difficult, but not impossible, undertaking to raise public awareness and concern for the deaths of the nascent humans conceived by embryonic stem cell research. If approved, the HFE Bill will accelerate the rate of deaths of all immature humans, including experimentally disfigured admixed human embryos, IVF embryos, and fetuses.

"Already there are papers in the scientific literature from groups reporting admixed human-rabbit and human-cow embryos. It is noteworthy that, for these troubling experiments, women's rights issues do not apply. Surely, these nascent humans must be given a different kind of hearing than fetuses have been given. There is neither a moral nor a scientifically acceptable reason for their conception, which is entirely avoidable; and they cannot provide faithful models for our human ailments. They will just die from their own unique ailments that were given to them by their scientist masters."

MPs’ growing intolerance to religious or ethical considerations – Catholic bishop of Lancaster

Bishop Patrick O'Donoghue issued a statement yesterday on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. His compelling reflection on the House of Commons’ “flawed and selective approach to science” entirely complements the article sent me last week by Dr Sherley, a Senior Scientist at Boston Biomedical Research Institute in the U. S. who recently visited London as a guest of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.

Bishop O’Donoghue says:

"Listening to the second reading and debate on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill in the House of Commons, I was saddened beyond measure. It has been said that the House of Commons is at its best when debating issues of conscience, but do I detect here a growing intolerance to listening to religious or ethical considerations? Again and again the justification given to experimenting on embryonic human beings or killing the unborn was an appeal to ‘science’ or ‘scientific research’ as if it were the only source of objective, rational knowledge. It seems that millennia of ethical and religious thought are lightly dismissed as subjective and discredited.

"In contrast to the language of utilitarianism in the parliamentary debate that sought to justify the exploitation of the unborn for our economic and medical gain there arises in my heart the words of Scripture that speak prophetically of the dignity of the unborn child:

‘You created my inmost self,
Knit me together in my mother’s womb.
For so many marvels I thank you;
A wonder am I, and all your works are wonders.
...Your eyes could see my embryo.’ (Psalm 139:13-14, 16).

"Every embryonic human person is a wonder of creation, who possesses the inherent right to realise his or her potential for creativity, love, self-sacrifice, and joy. However, our society has so cheapened and violated human life that it does not hear or understand the language of wonder about the unborn.

"A dangerous myth appears to be growing that the only knowledge that can inform policy- making is scientific research. Discourse and reason are impoverished when science is used to exclude other branches of knowledge, such as reasoning based on natural law. Not only this, but we witnessed a flawed, selective approach to science, with the House choosing to ignore the hard scientific evidence provided by adult and umbilical cord stem cell research, that proves that unethical research on embryonic human persons is unnecessary. What we saw last week in the House of Commons was the misuse of science to justify the continued exploitation and disposal of society’s most vulnerable members – embryonic and foetal human persons.

"As I understand it, there is not a shred of scientific evidence to support those who promote the benefits of creating human-animal hybrids. What we witnessed in the vote allowing the creation of human-animal hybrids was a partisan act of faith that experimentation on embryos will at some distant time result in cures for Alzheimer’s, MS and other diseases.

"We all hope and pray that medical science will find cures for these diseases that cause such dreadful suffering, but not at the cost of de-personalising the unborn and treating them as things to be manipulated and dissected. Compassion cannot result in the exploitation and destruction of unborn human persons. It is also a misuse of science to employ medical judgements concerning the ‘viability’ of the unborn child’s development as the only consideration that grants the most fundamental of human rights – the right to life.

"It’s farcical to think that the definition of a human person depends on being able to exist on one’s own. Human life is a series of inter-related dependencies at all stages of our existence. The State has no moral right to exclude the most vulnerable stage of dependency from the legal protection granted to human life. Any State that accepts the arbitrary use of power over others is immoral. As I see it, last week’s vote in the House of Commons perpetuated the immoral use of power over the unborn.

"How can it be reasonable that a 12 week old foetus is treated as an unborn child or disposed of as a thing depending on the choice of the mother? Being a person is not something granted by the choice of another, but is an inherent right dependent on the fact of existence. From the moment of conception, the unborn human being is genetically unique from his or her mother and father. The unborn child is a completely new and different living being.

"The Catholic Church truly cares for the well-being of women, particularly those agonising over the decision whether to continue with a pregnancy or to have an abortion. I can only imagine that the trauma of rape or the anxiety of a mother unable to cope can feel unbearable. However, I have been told that the grief and distress that many women suffer following an abortion is also unbearable. Confronted with this suffering, we must all do more to support the work of Pro-Life groups that offer counselling and practical support to women who are considering abortion or are struggling to cope after an abortion.

"In its strong stand against abortion or experimentation on embryonic human persons, the Church is not saying all who have an abortion or all those who voted for this legislation are evil. But it is the Church’s duty to constantly remind society that the act of intentionally killing the unborn embryo or child is always of itself evil.

"I would like to personally thank all those Members of Parliament who tabled amendments and voted in defence of unborn human life. I call on all people of faith – Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, and Christian – who believe in the sanctity of unborn human life to join with the Catholic Church in redoubling their efforts in the continuing campaign for a change in these laws.

"During the 19th century, slavers said black people weren’t human. They were wrong. During the 20th century, the Nazis said Jews weren’t human. They were wrong. Since 1967, the House of Commons has said the unborn are not human. They, too, are wrong."
+Patrick O’Donoghue, Bishop of Lancaster Sunday, 25 May, 2008

Wednesday 21 May 2008

Claire Curtis-Thomas should resign as a vice-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Pro-life Group

In last night’s Commons debate on abortion, Mrs Claire Curtis-Thomas, Labour MP for Crosby and a vice-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group (APPPLG), said the following:

"For the record, and contrary to many of the statements that I have read this week which purport to know my views, I am not opposed to abortion. I believe that women should have the right to choose; I just hope that they do not choose to have an abortion."

Later in the debate, she also said:

"I would be much happier with 12 weeks—that is where I stand. Let women have the choice, but make it at 12 weeks. "

There is no defence for her comments – they are clear statements that not only should abortion be allowed in law, but that abortion is a woman’s right. She should resign immediately as a vice-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Pro-life Group.

Abortion weeks amendments rejected, attack on unborn babies expected to intensify

SPUC expresses grave concern at the large numbers of MPs who voted with the pro-abortion lobby tonight in the House of Commons. MPs were voting on proposed changes to the Abortion Act 1967 via amendments to the government's Human Fertilisation and Embryology bill.

None of the amendments seeking to lower the 24 week time limit, which applies to most social abortions, was passed. The number of MPs voting with the pro-abortion lobby exceeding 390. Amendments to widen access to abortion very considerably are expected to be tabled at the bill's report stage. Some pro-abortion amendments had been tabled before tonight's committee stage, but were withdrawn prior to tonight's debate.

Pro-lifers must now redouble their efforts to stop pro-abortion amendments being incorporated into the government's embryo bill at its report stage. These amendments may include removing the requirement for two doctors to certify medical grounds for an abortion, and promoting nurses as abortion practitioners. More babies will die if such amendments are passed.

SPUC has for many years warned MPs not to table amendments seeking to lower time limits on abortion, in the light of the current Parliament's overwhelming pro-abortion majority. Contary to erroneous media reports, the upper time limit for all abortions is not 24 weeks, as abortion up to birth has been allowed since 1990 where an unborn child has been deemed to be seriously handicapped or in certain other circumstances.

MPs voted to reject lowering the 24 week social abortion limit to:

12 weeks - rejected by 393 votes to 71

16 weeks - 387 to 84

20 weeks - 332 to 190

22 weeks - 304 to 233

An amendment to require information to be offered to mothers prior to the abortion of a disabled child was also defeated by 309 to 173.

Tuesday 20 May 2008

NI cross-party unity on abortion

The leaders of the four main political parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly have signed a letter to all Westminster MPs urging them to vote against any measure which would extend British abortion law to their part of the UK. The signatories are Mr Gerry Adams, Sinn Féin, Mr Mark Durkan, SDLP, Sir Reg Empey, UUP, and Dr Ian Paisley, DUP.

Liam Gibson of SPUC Northern Ireland writes: "It would be difficult to overestimate the significance of the letter from the leaders of Northern Ireland’s major political parties. A joint statement of this kind, signed by all four of them, is unprecedented. Together they represent 90% of the members of the Northern Ireland Assembly, which demonstrates the level of determination in the Province to resist threats to extend the Abortion Act. Although Parliament has the political power to impose the Act, the moral authority clearly rests with the Assembly. The party leaders are asking MPs to respect that.

"The leaders of Northern Ireland’s major Christian denominations have also written to MPs asking them to acknowledge that any change to abortion legislation ought be the responsibility of the Assembly.

"On 22 October 2007 Assembly members from the four parties gave overwhelming support to a motion rejecting 'any attempt to make abortion more widely available in Northern Ireland.'

"The people of Northern Ireland still recognise the right to life of the unborn child – a right affirmed by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. They are also concerned by the evidence of the harm abortion does to women. While the law in Northern Ireland protects unborn children, it protects women as well."

Monday 19 May 2008

Government hardens embryo bill stance

MPs tonight rejected proposed curbs on the expansion of embryo research law. The Commons blocked amendments to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill which sought to prevent or otherwise limit the creation of human-animal hybrid embryos and ‘saviour siblings’. This reflects the government’s resolve to allow new abuses of human embryos and human reproduction. Ethically-conscious MPs must now throw out the government’s embryo bill. We expand on this in an SPUC media release.

SPUC asks Archbishop Nichols to correct and clarify his statement on the value of embryonic human life

It is dismaying for pro-lifers, of all faiths and none, to hear the words of Vincent Nichols, the Catholic archbishop of Birmingham, today on BBC Radio 4's World at One. He said: “…What we’ve been trying to say all along is ‘What is the value that we give to human life in its first beginnings?’ Now clearly it’s not the same as we would give to another adult sitting next to me…”

As a Catholic, and as a pro-life campaigner, I am naturally familiar with Pope John Paul II's presentation of church teaching on the value of pre-natal life, which is completely contrary to the position set out by Archbishop Nichols.

Pope John Paul II writes, for example, in Evangelium Vitae (61) : "Human life is sacred and inviolable at every moment of existence, including the initial phase which precedes birth..."

Elsewhere, quoting Donum Vitae, the Holy Father said: "'The human being is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception; and therefore from that same moment his rights as a person must be recognized, among which in the first place is the inviolable right of every innocent human being to life'" (Evangelium Vitae 60)

With great respect, and especially in the light of the current debate and MPs' votes on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, a bill which shows such complete contempt for prenatal human life, I do sincerely hope and pray that the archbishop will reconsider what he said and issue a correction and clarification.

Archbishop Nichols also said to his interviewer: “In your introduction I think you quite rightly said that these [the question of saviour siblings] are painful dilemmas and I don’t believe there are black and white answers.”

I am asking the archbishop if he will make it clear that the practice known as “saviour siblings” is opposed by the Catholic Church for a number of reasons.

According to Donum Vitae, published in 1987 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in-vitro fertilisation is in itself illicit and in opposition to the dignity of procreation and of the conjugal union, even if everything is done to avoid the death of the human embryo.

Furthermore, the creation of “saviour siblings” necessarily involves the testing and discarding of human embryos who may either carry the same genetic problem as their sibling, or they may not be a good tissue match.

Finally, creating a human embryo in order for him or her to become a tissue donor for a sibling is contrary to the human dignity of that embyo.

MPs’ amendments will increase access to abortion throughout pregnancy

Pro-abortion amendments tabled at the last moment last Friday will make abortions in Britain more easily available throughout pregnancy. The amendments have been tabled by Evan Harris (Liberal Democrat, pictured), Chris McCafferty (Labour), John Bercow (Conservative) and Katy Clark MP (Labour).

The amendments set out new circumstances under which only one doctor approves an abortion, both before and after the upper limit for most abortions. Also, medical practitioners will no longer have to form their opinion 'in good faith' which applies all situations under the current abortion law. There are other changes proposed by the MPs which reduce accountability on the part of doctors. These amendments will send the message to doctors: ‘when you decide a woman should have an abortion, you don’t need to justify your decision or worry about what other doctors will think’. If MPs vote for such amendments they will show they care as little for health and welfare of women as they do for unborn children.

It’s essential to contact your MP to ask them to vote against these and any other pro-abortion amendments tomorrow, Tuesday, 20th May. You can contact your MP via

Friday 16 May 2008

Disabled leader: human embryo research unethical and unpromising

There’s been vast amounts of media coverage featuring disabled people saying how essential the passage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill is, to seek cures for disability, and its proposals regarding the creation of, and destructive research on human embryos and human-animal hybrids.

Alison Davis, the leader of No Less Human, a group within SPUC, has spina bifida and several other disabling conditions. She has a letter in yesterday’s Telegraph opposing such views from both an ethical and pragmatic perspective.

New video on stem cell science

The Scottish Catholic Media Office has posted a new video on YouTube about the science of stem cells, presented by Professor Colin McGuckin, professor of regenerative medicine, University of Newcastle.

Thursday 15 May 2008

Comprehensive stats on life and family in Europe

The Institute for Family Policies has produced a very helpful, though worrying, report on the current state of the family within and across the 27 member-states of the European Union (EU). The president of the institute's European network is a young Spanish woman, Lola Velarde, who with SPUC and other groups, was part of the pro-life opposition to the pro-abortion 'Women Deliver' conference in London last year. The report, "The evolution of the family in Europe 2008" uses a great number of statistics and finds that abortion is the largest single cause of death within the European Union (EU), with an unborn child being aborted almost every 30 seconds. Almost one in every five pregnancies ends in abortion, and that only includes recorded abortions, not the countless newly-conceived embryonic children who may be killed in the first hours of their lives by abortion-causing birth control drugs and devices as well as through IVF procedures. Almost one million fewer babies were born inside the EU last year than in 1980. Do read the report and use it to spread the message that Europe must embrace human life and the family if it is to survive.

Wednesday 14 May 2008

Shame on Andrew Lansley, Tory shadow health secretary

I take issue with Andrew Lansley, the Tory shadow health secretary (pictured), who told MPs on Monday: “If a woman needs an abortion…then it must be better for that to be an early and medical abortion, rather than later and surgical.” He seemed to be following Professor Stuart Campbell’s line (Telegraph, 1st May 2008) who said: "no one seriously disputes that the earlier a termination is carried out the better and safer it is." Mr Lansley, like Professor Campbell, himself, is calling for the abolition of the current requirement for a second doctor to authorise an abortion.

Earlier terminations are better for whom?

Are they better for young women for whom, at the end of a 'long line of non-choices', abortion becomes the only “choice”.

How many young women have been deceived by their school sex ed classes, telling them that by using contraception and being empowered by information, they would be 'safe'. There's not much recognition, in sex education, that many girls experience a power imbalance in their relationships with older, stronger, more persuasive men.

Girls are often told that sex is a normal part of teenage relationships, thereby applying the pressure of the 'norm' to give in to men. Apparently, only freaks don't have sex with their boyfriends. The fact is, girls fall in love and are eager to please and to be seen as normal.

And when teenage pregnancy is so frequently condemned by political leaders and in the media and elsewhere, who can blame a teenager for feeling shocked and unreal when she gets pregnant? Who can blame her for being completely unable to visualise herself as a mother and a happy, successful woman at the same time?

So because she can't see any path other than abortion, she may have that to grieve for her child for the rest of her life. Feeling powerless, avoiding thinking about the moral aspects of abortion, and being young will all contribute to an increased risk of psychological problems after abortion, including depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. And yes, this includes women who have early abortions.

And is early abortion better for the foetus? Obviously no abortion is good for any foetus.

We also doubt that rushing women through the abortion process can be an all-round good thing. A study in Sweden found that one in ten women changed her mind after seeking abortion. Lucky these women had time to back out. Ambivalence and doubt about the decision are normal - and research shows very clearly that ambivalence is a predictor of negative psychological responses to abortion. Often women are waiting for someone to show some real support (not "it's your choice" which is essentially abandoning them to their own circumstances) and to say "yes, I believe you can do this". Women need space to step back from the panic and listen to their own inner voice, not the clamour of what everyone else thinks or what our culture is telling them.

But earlier abortion might be good for some other people.

Of course, quick and early abortion might be in the interests of abortion clinics.

Maybe quick, early abortion is better for the doctors who dislike the thought of killing a foetus that can suck its thumb and do somersaults and who deny to themselves that the baby is a living, growing human being from conception/fertilisation. Perhaps removing the requirement for two signatures will allow abortion doctors to sleep a little easier at night.

Maybe quick, early abortion is easier for men who would prefer women for short-term sex rather than for long-term love and having families.

But it certainly doesn't do anything to address our culture that has made quick, early abortion the easiest option for most young women. So shame on Andrew Lansley, the Tory shadow health secretary.

Professor Campbell's emotional manipulation

Andrew Lansley, the Tory shadow health secretary (see my post above), seems to have read the recent article by Professor Stuart Campbell about abortion law. It is a clever work that uses emotional manipulation combined with obfuscation to argue for changes to abortion law that provide even easier access to abortion. Easier access, contrary to Campbell’s claims, will not serve women well and is likely to increase the numbers of abortions. It will also neatly serve the purposes of those who want to establish abortion as a human right.

Campbell first creates an image that is emotionally powerful. Using the 3D imaging technique he developed, we immediately identify with the unborn child behaving in very human ways, like smiling, yawning, crying and sucking its thumb. We even hear of doctors who do not want to abort this child, and that to do so would be “almost barbaric”. This part of the article is clear and easy to follow, even though its most obvious failing is to apply this only to the child of 20 weeks or more. The arbitrariness in choosing this time leaps from the print.

But the reader has been primed. Primed for the real intent of the article, which is to make abortions easier prior to 12 weeks, and in doing so creep closer to accepting that abortion is just like any other medical procedure. When that is accepted it is a simple step to claim that, like the right to health care, abortion is likewise a right.

This is where the obfuscation begins.

Campbell wants the existing rule that two doctors must sign for an abortion to be abolished. It is true, as Campbell notes, that the ‘two-doctor rule’ was “introduced to avoid frivolous…abortion”, but why use the fact that “99 percent of abortions are carried out for social reasons” to support abolishing the two-doctor rule? Does Campbell think that thousands of abortions for social reasons are frivolous abortions? And does he think that abortions for frivolous reasons are okay? It is unclear.

Campbell also says the two-doctor rule has become “something of a farce”, and that “it is almost routine”. Yet this routine farce apparently involves “the laborious formalities of seeking independent signatures”, causing delays of 2 to 3 weeks. Which is it? We must presume the latter, because what immediately follows is emotional blackmail; the message being that women must have an abortion quickly, because the longer the decision is left the more chance they will be guilty of aborting a ‘real’ child. Given that there is sound evidence that a significant proportion of women remain ambivalent about their decision to abort, pressure to abort earlier rather than later on the grounds that their child is ever more human as time goes by, is cruelly manipulative.

The reader of Campbell’s article is being asked to support a legislative trade-off. Change the law on late-term abortions from 24 weeks to 20 weeks, but remove the two-doctor rule for earlier abortions. The outcome will be unfair pressure on the decision-making process in favour of abortion and an increase in the overall number of abortions. It may also support the clamour by some for ‘reproductive rights’. That some 21-24 week old unborn children will be aborted a few weeks earlier is cold comfort.

Tuesday 13 May 2008

Urge MPs to vote against pro-abortion amendments

At the first debate ("Second Reading") on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFE) bill in the House of Commons on Monday 12th May, MPs voted 340 to 78 for the bill. (Please note that certain media e.g. the Telegraph reported the vote numbers incorrectly). We had not expected to win - but this is nonetheless a very heavy blow to us all. It now goes to its committee stage.

There are more battles we must fight over the bill in coming weeks and months.

Next week there will be debates on Monday and Tuesday. Please urge your MP to attend and vote against anti-life measures on Monday and Tuesday, and ask others to do the same. We must ask sympathetic MPs particularly to attend the abortion debate on Tuesday the 20th. MPs should be asked to VOTE AGAINST PRO-ABORTION AMENDMENTS - whatever else they do on any other amendment. The most important thing is to vote against the pro-abortion amendments. Visit for how you can contact your MP. (Please also visit SPUC's HFE bill campaign page )

During the debate on 12th May, the Conservative health spokesman (Andrew Lansley) indicated that he would vote to abolish the need for two doctors to authorise an abortion, and to allow nurses to provide drug-induced abortions. These amendments would lead to more abortions than ever. Although the Conservatives are not whipping MPs to support these pro-abortion amendments, the personal backing of their health spokesman is a major factor. Labour are not imposing a whip next Tuesday either, but it was already known where the Labour health secretary Alan Johnson stands. It is equally important to urge MPs of all parties to oppose the pro-abortion amendments.

After next Tuesday, letter writing and leafleting against the bill should continue.

The chances of defeating the bill are clearly slim. Please urge all people of faith to pray that it will fall. Politics is an uncertain business, and if anything happens in the next few weeks to destabilise the government any more (e.g. poor opinion poll ratings, etc), the government could become nervous of the bill, especially if people like Cardinal O'Brien and Bishop O'Donoghue keep speaking out.

Please keep fighting with us in these dark days.

Monday 12 May 2008

HFE bill: the next steps

MPs tonight voted for the government's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill during its second reading. There were 340 votes for and just 78 against. Although this is by no means the end of the matter, the outcome is disturbing.

In tonight's debate we heard yet more promises of therapies that could come from such research. In 1990 we were told that breakthroughs were imminent and yet nothing has been achieved save the destruction of countless human embryos.

There were also threats tonight from some MPs that they are prepared to use the bill to widen access to abortion. Although the government has stated that it would prefer not to have abortion amendments in the bill, it has not taken steps to stop this from happening. If pro-abortion MPs succeed in making access to abortion more widely available and imposing it on Northern Ireland, the government will share in the responsibility.

SPUC strongly urges everyone to ask their MP to oppose pro-abortion amendments. We do not recommend asking MPs to support time limit amendments in the bill. Why not?

Some MPs are already talking in terms of a “trade off”; that is, supporting some “pro-life” amendments and other pro-abortion ones. This would be disastrous. The time limit amendment would become a bargaining chip for our opponents to use to gain support for the pro-abortion amendments.

SPUC recognises the good intentions of many who support time limit amendments, but we have consistently opposed calls for time-limit amendments in the current Parliament.

SPUC’s briefings on the bill (available from SPUC HQ or on our website) explain the objections to time-limit amendments in more detail.

Pope Benedict's ringing endorsement of Humanae Vitae – a call for action for the pro-life movement worldwide

Over the weekend, Pope Benedict made a statement on the forthcoming 40th anniversary (25th July) of the papal encyclical letter Humanae Vitae. Pope Benedict’s statement is of huge significance for the world and for the pro-life movement.

His endorsement of the truth of the teaching of Humanae Vitae could not be more emphatic. He writes: “The truth expressed in Humanae Vitae does not change; rather, in light of the new scientific findings, its teaching becomes even more up to date and induces reflection upon its intrinsical value.”

The pope's sense of urgency about spreading the truth of Humanae Vitae is palpable and must provide a call for action for the pro-life movement, in particular, worldwide. He says: “The concern for human life and the safeguard of the dignity of the person impose upon us not to leave anything untried so that it may be shared with all people the genuine truth of responsible conjugal love in full adherence to the law written in the heart of every person.”

See my post on 14th February to understand why I think Pope Benedict’s statement is of such supreme significance for the pro-life movement.

Ray of hope for the pro-life movement

From Northern Ireland comes a real ray of hope for the pro-life movement as the four main political parties unite to oppose the extension of British abortion law to the province. Leaders of the Democratic Unionists, Sinn Féin, the Social Democratic and Labour Party and the Ulster Unionists are co-signatories to a letter to MPs opposing the the extension of the British abortion law to Northern Ireland.

Liam Gibson of SPUC Northern Ireland writes: "On 22 October 2007 Assembly members from the four major political parties gave overwhelming support to a motion rejecting 'any attempt to make abortion more widely available in Northern Ireland.' The letter from party leaders reflects that overwhelming view of the Assembly.

“The people of Northern Ireland recognise the right to life of the unborn child – a right affirmed by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. They are also increasingly concerned by the evidence of the harm abortion does to women. It is vitally important that people write to the Prime Minister asking him not to allow the House of Commons to impose the Abortion Act on the Province but let this matter be decided by our elected representatives in the Assembly."

Mr Brown is, of course, at 10 Downing Street, London, SW1A 2AA, and you can contact him online here.

SPUC petition against embryology bill

Today I was at the Houses of Parliament in London to deliver SPUC's petition against the government's Human Fertilisation and Embryology bill. We gave the sheets bearing more than 45,400 signatures to Mr David Burrowes, Conservative MP for Enfield Southgate, who will later present the petition to the House of Commons.

As he received the petition as Big Ben struck noon, Mr Burrowes movingly recited a prayer that is inscribed on a plaque in parliament's clock tower. The words are: "All through this hour, Lord be my guide, and by thy power no foot shall slide."

The petition says: " … that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill (2007) proposes to endorse the creation of human-animal hybrid embryos in the laboratory; the widening of the scope for experiments on human embryos, and the creation of human embryos for other purposes without regard for the welfare and status of such embryos.

"The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons vote against the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, and urge the Government to change its policy towards endorsing the creation of human-animal hybrid embryos in the laboratory; the widening of the scope for experiments on human embryos, and the creation of human embryos for other purposes without regard for the welfare and status of such embryos."

The bill's Commons second reading begins today. It has already been passed by the House of Lords.

Pictured outside parliament today are (from left) myself, Linda Davidson, SPUC's enquiries officer, Mr David Burrowes, Conservative MP for Enfield Southgate, and Mrs Kay O'Brien, an SPUC supporter who lives in Mr Burrowes' constituency.

Friday 9 May 2008

Last call to oppose HFE bill 2nd reading

This is a reminder that the first main debate ("Second Reading") and vote in the House of Commons on the government's Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFE) Bill is on Monday (12 May).

Please email or telephone your MP between now and Monday morning (preferably today as soon as possible!) to ask him/her to vote against the Bill on Monday. The HFE Bill is the most serious legislative threat to early human life since the 1990 embryology law.

You can email your MP via (If you're not sure who your MP is, you can find out at that link) It is not usually worthwhile to write to any other MP than your own. Please write messages in your own words, and keep them brief and courteous.

You can telephone your MP via the parliamentary switchboard 020 7219 3000.

Please remember to let SPUC know about any responses you receive by email to

For more information, visit SPUC's HFE bill campaign page at

SPUC has written to MPs, reminding them the HFE bill rests on principles that are unjust, irrational and contrary to the intrinsic human rights and dignity of the person. SPUC also sent MPs a summary briefing which can be read here.

Thursday 8 May 2008

Lord Tebbit presents our student essay prizes

Today I was at the Houses of Parliament for the presentation of the Robin McNair Prize. This annual competition is jointly sponsored by the SPUC Education and Research Trust and the family of the late Squadron Leader McNair, one of Britain’s leading fighter pilots in the second world war and an SPUC member. Contestants aged 14 to 18 write essays on bioethical issues.

Rt Hon Lord Tebbit, the former Conservative minister and party-chairman, was today presenting the 2006 and 2007 awards. The winning students had written about abortion, cloning and the rights of the disabled.

Young prizewinners and others pictured at today's McNair awards, from left to right: Mr Tony Kieran, chairman of the SPUC Education and Research Trust, Tanya Stockting, Patrick McNair, Mr Duncan McNair, Sarah Appleton, Lord Tebbit, Thomas Woloshyn, Miriam Cantwell and myself.

Lord Tebbit spoke about his political career during which he had sometimes had to take a stand on controversial issues. He was gravely concerned about moral relativism in public life. The House of Lords had debated the Human Fertilisation and Embryology bill fully and well, but he feared that the Commons would rush it through. It was important to keep defending matters of principle because, where some led, others would follow. He praised the winning essays. The authors had plainly grappled with the issues at stake.

Lord Tebbit voted with the pro-life lobby on 25 occasions since entering parliament in 1990, and made a good contribution to the parliamentary debate on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology bill. Not only had Lord Tebbit pressed ministers to define hybrid embryos, but he had stood up to the IVF “technologists”, such as Lord Winston, insisting that, on the moral use of technology, every member of the House of Lords has an equal standing in expressing a view.

In recalling Squadron Leader McNair, I spoke of G K Chesterton's description of his brother who had "the courage of the forum and of the field." A war-hero, Robin McNair also defended the unborn in the public sphere. Lord Tebbit, who was presenting the prizes, shared those same qualities – showing valour as an RAF pilot and telling the truth in politics.

Mr Duncan McNair, youngest son of Squadron Leader McNair, pointed out that this was the eighth year in which the prize had been awarded. There had been a record number of entrants in the 2007 competition. His father had been among those who had campaigned against the passage of the 1967 Abortion Act. Squadron Leader McNair had also worked to help displaced persons and other members of society who had suffered. Although a military man, he showed compassion.

Mr Duncan McNair feared a new dark age in which human life was increasingly at risk. Also praising the successful entries, he said that, with talent, also came the responsibility to ensure that these issues were debated and understood. He wished the prizewinners every success in life.

Our website has more details of the winners and more pictures.

Thursday 1 May 2008

Let’s focus on opposing HFE bill – it’s time to drop the upper limit issue

The government has just announced that the first main debate (termed the “Second Reading”) in the House of Commons on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFE) Bill will be held on Monday 12th May. A Second Reading is a debate on the principle of the Bill. No amendments are debated at this stage. It is expected that there will be a vote on the Bill as a whole. The immediate priority is to ask MPs to speak and vote against the Bill at Second Reading. We must also alert others to the nature of the Bill to help swell opposition to it. Please visit SPUC's HFE Bill campaign page for guidance about how to take action.

Meanwhile, Lord (David) Steel, the author of the 1967 Abortion Act, has now explicitly rejected lowering the 24 week limit on 'social' abortions. In 2004, Lord Steel made deceptively ambiguous comments which were reported as calling for the 24 week limit to be lowered. SPUC warned at the time that Lord Steel's comments had been misinterpreted, and that he and other pro-abortion public figures were raising the issue of late-term abortion as a cover for a campaign to make abortion more easily available generally. Professor Stuart Campbell, who produced the ‘walking in the womb’ 3D ultrasound images, has today renewed his call for the law to be changed to allow easier and faster access to abortion in early pregnancy, while still calling for a reduction in the 24 week limit.

Making abortion in law and practice no "different from any other treatment" (as pro-abortion MP Dr Evan Harris describes it) is essential to the campaign to have abortion declared a universal, fundamental human right. David Steel has long wanted to widen his Abortion Act. It's time that wishful thinking about David Steel regretting the consequences of the Abortion Act he sponsored is consigned to history, along with the idea that it's possible to work with him to restrict the law. David Steel appears to be more openly pro-abortion than he was 41 years ago.

It really is time for the idea of trying to restrict abortion via the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill to be dropped. Even if a nominal adjustment to the current 24 week threshold (which applies only to one clause in the Abortion Act) were to be agreed by Parliament, this would almost certainly be accompanied by a widening of the grounds for abortion before, and possibly after, that new threshold. There is an substantial pro-abortion majority in Parliament. Introducing amendments aimed at restricting abortion will not only fail, but will simply increase the pressure upon the government and those as yet uncommitted parliamentarians to support an 'updating' of the abortion law - an 'updating' that will result in the law increasing the number of abortions.

Any change to the abortion law that we promote must be ethically sound (not entailing, for example, a trade-off of some lives in the hope of saving others) and it must be politically prudent – to minimise the danger of the kind of negative outcome that resulted from the well-intentioned efforts of 1990.

SPUC does not take the view that the only way forward is to repeal the whole Abortion Act in one go. However, there are many ways, other than highlighting late-term abortions, in which abortion can be challenged both within Parliament and in other arenas.

Those motivated by pro-life concerns already have their work cut out for them opposing the HFE Bill and defeating the pro-abortion amendments Evan Harris is due to table. The best result on abortion we can hope for realistically in the current Parliament is a consensus that the HFE Bill is not the appropriate vehicle for changing the law on abortion.