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.