Sunday, September 18, 2005

Why should restricting abortion to 12 weeks be a right wing issue? Doesn't the left care about human rights and a Surestart for every child?! Doesn't everyone know that even at 12 week the baby is highly developed?

I was delighted to hear the Tory leadership candidate, Dr Liam Fox MP courageously stating his belief that abortion should be restricted to 12 weeks, but I was also interested to see that the headline in The Telegraph read "Fox courts religious Right with plea to limit abortion to 12 weeks". Support for a major restriction in the abortion limit is widespread. A year ago, a number of commentators, some in spite of supporting some abortions, called for a restriction to 12 weeks in response to the ultrasound images which clearly show the baby moving in the womb at 12 weeks. In July 2004, Tony Blair said that he would consider a review of abortion law in response to new medical findings, which made the front page of The Times.

Every day there are 500 abortions, so there is considerable urgency to review and change the abortion limit and protect these babies which are currently being terminated. There is considerable support for a restriction in the time limit and in the numbers of abortions. As long ago as April 2004, Jasper Gerard in The Times while remaining pro-choice, called for a restriction to 12 weeks, saying that although the proabortion lobby says that the majority of abortions are carried out before 12 weeks, there are still 22,000 abortions after 12 weeks (3,000 after 20 weeks). Mark Henderson, the science correspondent of The Times also stated that there was medical support for a restriction in abortion after 12 weeks. The Daily Mail compared all the European countries showing that the UK is out of step with Europe with one of the latest time limits for aborting babies. David Steel, who introduced the private member's bill which legalised abortion, was widely reported calling for a restriction of abortion to 12 weeks (front page The Times, 4th July 2004 and The Scotsman

Mary Seighart's reflections on how her views of abortion have changed are interesting - from support to when she carried a child herself and felt "queasier" about abortion, to shock at hearing Ellie Lee, coordinator of the pro-choice forum argue for abortion up to and including birth. She does not agree with the absolute prolife position and suggests that earlier abortions are better than late ones and suggests that the abortion limit should be reduced to 22 weeks (,,1071-1172846,00.html
Mary Ann Sieghart, Abortion rights and wrongs are all a matter of timing July 09, 2004

I think aborting babies earlier to avoid aborting them later cannot be right. But the fact is that there is a growing consensus that 12 weeks should be the limit for abortions. It wouldn't make sense to leave it at 22 weeks given that babies can be born and survive at 21 weeks and babies have also survived abortions at 18 weeks, and anyone looking at the ultrasound pictures at 16 weeks and 14 weeks would have to admit it isn't possible to detect any significant difference in the intrinsic humanity of the baby at these gestations. Late second and third trimester terminations are so horrific that they have never been shown on TV. They must be stopped. This should be such a basic issue of humanity that it cannot belong to either side of the political spectrum, no more than we would expect our political system to be divided into those who support and oppose torture. Every political party should defend the right of children to life.

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Thursday, September 15, 2005

"Alison Lapper Pregnant is a monument to the future possibilities of the human race as well as the resilience of the human spirit"

This is a beautiful quote from the artist Marc Quinn about his statue of Alison Lapper which is now on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square (reported in the Guardian )and here) I think it is a superb and inspiring image of the courage of the human spirit, and the beauty and hope of a new life. Alison Lapper is quoted in the Guardian with the "exultant message: "I regard it as a modern tribute to femininity, disability and motherhood. It is so rare to see disability in everyday life - let alone naked, pregnant and proud."

Rod Liddle expressed concern in The Times about the appropriateness of a tribute to disabilty. I disagree, because it isn't a tribute to disability but a tribute to equal human rights, feminism and overcoming disability. Even if the element of overcoming disability was excluded, this statue would still be a testament to the fact that human beings are not reducible to their physical parts but have a unique spirit.

This statue could be a real "monument to the future" if it presides over Trafalgar Square during a year in which politicians have an opportunity to end the discrimination against the disabled which results in babies being screened and aborted up to and including birth if they are found to have a disability. If politicians are genuine in their admiration and respect for the dignity of people with disabilities and committed to equal rights, then it is time for a proper debate on this issue, and an end to this clause and the screening and elimination of people with disability, rather than concealing the reasons for abortions in the annual abortion statistics in order to prevent public scrutiny and debate (see ProLife Alliance press release, Scandal as DoH refuse to release details of abortion for disability, August 2004)

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Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Science Museum uses public money to host event which only gives a platform to four of the most extreme proabortionists in the UK

Yesterday evening, the London based Dana Centre in South Kensington spent public funding on an event in which four of the most extreme proabortionists in the UK, who believe in abortion up to and including birth, were allowed to speak unchallenged about abortion laws. Amongst the many absurdities of the evening, the audience was informed at the beginning and it was reiterated at the end by the chair, ex-BBC journalist, Sue Nelson, that the purpose of the evening was not to discuss whether abortion was right or wrong, because abortion is legal and it is always going to be legal. (Someone ought to go and tell the politicians they're not needed any more!) How could she seriously get away with such an outrageous statement? Anyone committed to the principle of democracy surely believes that the law needs to be continually assessed and scrutinised and should be changed if necessary. It was quite absurd to state that the law is fixed and immutable especially given the current debate which is being conducted in the media, in medical circles and in parliament. There is every indication that there will be a parliamentary review of abortion law.

To state as Sue Nelson did that the event was not about discussing the rights and wrongs of abortion, and then go on to favouring one side of the debate and omitting opposition arguments and evidence was disgracefully biased. It is not possible to be neutral while having a panel of speakers who presume a position, and exclude arguments against that position. No one could possibly claim that the panel was fair, representative or balanced. All the speakers subscribed to the view that abortion should be allowed up to and including birth, a position which a YouGov poll only a few weeks ago showed represents only 2% of the population. All of the panellists work in leading capacities for abortion agencies that carry out 200,000 abortions a year in this country, and all of the panellists want to make abortion more available in this country and worldwide. To say that the event was not about discussing the rights and wrongs of abortion, and then go on to favouring one side of the debate and omitting oppositional arguments and evidence is disgracefully biased.

The audience was split into small groups and the speakers circulated. Half of the eight or so people on my table, it emerged, currently work for the proabortion British Pregnancy Advisory Service which performs abortions. They giggled at the description of early forms of abortion and asked about lead poisioning. After a few unendurable minutes of this, I asked the proabortion panellist who was distributing information about early abortion methods what affect lead poisioning has on the baby's body, and if she thought that any methods of abortion would be intolerable. I also said how absolutely appalling it was to drive women to such desperate means and as a feminist I felt deeply angry that women should feel so desperate and unable to continue with their pregnancies and that rather than celebrating abortion as a liberation of women we should all join in condemning the ghastly history of abortion and experimentation on women's bodies and destruction of children.

Directly after this a woman from Marie Stopes International came to speak to our table about illegal abortions and women dying from unsafe abortions. I asked her whether Marie Stopes International as an organisation work to prosecute anyone who carries out procedures which result in the death of women. She mumbled a bit and then said that she had never been asked the question before and she didn't know what Marie Stopes view would be on this. I said I was amazed that she could work in these countries yet not have a view on the prosecution of abortionists. Of course Marie Stopes only interest is promoting abortion, at the expense of women and children, they are not remotely interested in the alleviation of poverty or helping women continue with pregnanices. It angers me that we can spend money on abortion when the solution is ending poverty and putting money directly into alleviating famine, malnutrition and immunising children against killer diseases.

After this, Ann Furedi from BPAS came to speak to our group, and I asked her about BPAS's policy on how babies should be treated who survive the abortion procedure and are born alive. Her response was that these babies should not be surviving the abortion procedure. David Paintin was the final speaker and advises BPAS and devises ways to terminate children's lives. Predictably this did not lead to a very informative discussion on either how to restrict abortion, defend children or help women.

I have written to the Dana Centre to express my disgust at the event. I have attended events at the Dana Centre for the last two years, on a number of topics including stem cell research, disability issues and screening embryos, xenotransplantation, organ donation and human cloning. I have had serious concerns in the past about the balance of their panels, particularly when they have had panels entirely consisting of only one side of the debate on issues like embryo research, but last night took bias to a completely new extreme of offensiveness. There was no representative at all from the prolife side, and not even anyone who could take a partial-middle of the road medical, ethical or social perspective. All four speakers were absolutely proabortion. It was also not made clear to the audience how extreme all of the panelists were in their views. They were treated as though they were objective. However, none of them would be likely to give medical and legal factual information that would contradict the proabortion case. In fact the stock responses they gave about the mortality of babies and viability has been contradicted in medical literature.

This is part of a more general criticism of the Dana Centre using public funds and then only presenting one side of the issue. I am particularly alarmed to see that they have another event tonight discussing stem cell research. I have written to ask if they have invited panellists to speak who will be able to speak knowledgeably about the tendency of embryonic stem cells to cause cancerous tumours, recent literature which shows that embryonic stem cells are rejected by the patient's immune system, and the considerable advances in adult stem cell and umbilical cord blood stem cell research, in particular international moves to set up umbilical cord banking, and the news that the placenta has over 300 million epithelial cells? And that scientists have recently described embryonic stem cell research as overhyped? In other words that opposition to embryonic stem cell research is based on a serious analysis of the science, as well as the ethical issues (see and )

I have asked the Dana Centre if they will respond to my criticism and provide an assurance that, as a publicly funded organisation, they will ensure that all future events consist of a panel where the views are properly balanced and fair. I will update this when I have a response.

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Sunday, September 11, 2005


First class investigative journalism reveals UK abortion agencies facilitate illegal abortions on highly developed babies past the UK legal time limit and pay staff bonuses for more abortions

Following on from the shocking undercover investigation in the Sunday Telegraph last October, which revealed that hundreds of women were being referred by BPAS to a Spanish clinic for illegal abortions on perfectly healthy babies up to 30 weeks old, breaking both UK abortion law which prohibits abortion on healthy babies after 24 weeks, and Spanish law which is even stricter, The Sunday Telegraph reports today that another Spanish clinic, the Mediterrània Mèdica clinic in Valencia, is offering commission to British abortion agencies to refer women to their clinic for illegal abortions past the UK 24 week time limit. It is incredible that nearly a year has passed and these shocking revelations are repeating themselves.

It has also been revealed in the Mail on Sunday last week that"staff at one clinic were paid bonuses for maximising the weekly number of terminations is shocking and disturbing. Marie Stopes International, the organisation involved, is a registered charity bearing a revered name, though it is also a company limited by guarantee whose chief executive is paid £150,000 a year." Today, The The Mail on Sunday reports that "This week there are equally shocking revelations that another charity is paying doctors to authorise abortions without even meeting the patient. Both organisations receive large incomes from the taxpayer for carrying out terminations on behalf of the NHS."

The Sunday Telegraph revelations were so shocking because of the casual attitude of the staff at BPAS and at the Spanish clinic to the termination of the lives of such developed babies and the way in which the Spanish clinic staff openly admitted to falsifying records in order to get around the law by claiming there was a medical need. After months of seeing beautiful pictures of unborn babies at 12 weeks, the medical reality that babies can survive if born after 21 weeks, and the lyrical beauty of the undercover reporter’s description of her 26 week old very much wanted baby in the abortion clinic scan, no one is going to fall for the euphemisms BPAS have used for so long which claim that the baby is just tissue. And it is impossible to read the Sunday Telegraph investigation without feeling desperately sad and angry on behalf of the women who undergo these late term abortions, when they clearly need help and support to continue with the pregnancy.

When the revelations that BPAS were referring for illegal abortions first emerged in October last year, the then Secretary of State for Health, John Reid, ordered an immediate investigation by the Department of Health and said "If there is evidence that the will of Parliament is being thwarted and that the law of a fellow European country is being broken by an organisation in receipt of public money, this would be a very serious situation indeed. If The Sunday Telegraph lets me have the material I will ask that this matter is looked into immediately." The Charities Commission also began an investigation, the police were asked by the ProLife Alliance to investigate BPAS. The Guardian reported that David Davies has questioned why the report by the Department of Health into BPAS has not been published yet (see David Davies’s blog.) With more revelations about Marie Stopes and BPAS it is clear that decisive action is needed from the Government to penalise abortion agencies, which are flouting our law by referring women for illegal abortions, is long overdue.


The Guardian, Abortion provider under fire from chief medical officer

ProLife Allaince press release, Report on BPAS Fudges the Issue of Legality of Spanish Abortion Referrals

Report into abortions scandal was delayed 'to spare Government embarrassment'(25/09/2005)

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Thursday, September 08, 2005

Embryonic versus adult: News reports get it half right: Lord Winston says that embryonic stem cell research has been overhyped to persuade politicians, but no mention of successes using umbilical cord and adult stem cells

At last! Some sense in the stem cell debate! For years, groups like CORE have been pointing out that not only are embryonic stem cells unethical because they involve the destruction of human embryos, but they are also unnecessary because it is possible to use stem cells from umbilical cord blood (which is otherwise thrown away after birth) or adult stem cells taken from blood, bone marrow, fat, skin, hair follicles, dental pulp etc, etc. Moreover, so far embryonic stem cells have not been used in any treatment whereas adult stem cells have been used in a variety of treatments. Embryonic stem cells also face problems including being rejected by the patient's immune system as foreign tissue and causing cancerous tumours to form. Finally, today there was a breakthrough. In a speech to the British Association Festival of Science in Dublin, the Guardian reports, IVF specialist, [Lord] "Winston singled out claims surrounding research into embryonic stem cells as being particularly overblown."

And in The Times "I was concerned that parliamentarians - particularly in the House of Commons - have been convinced that it was just a matter of a few years before we would be able to transplant stem cells and cure a lot of neurological disorders, like Alzheimer's disease, for which I think it is going to be a hugely difficult problem and probably completely insoluble by stem cells."

Stephen Minger, an embryonic stem cell researcher at Kings also admits in the same Times article "It is true that Alzheimer’s is not a promising candidate for stem-cell therapies, but it was not scientists who suggested it was — that was all politics in the US driven by Nancy Reagan."

This is all very interesting, because I don't recall either the Royal Society or other embryonic stem cell researchers in the UK, like Stephen Minger, ever pointing out that Alzheimers is not likely to be cured using stem cells before. Recently I wrote to BBC Newsonline to point this out:

I also notice that the report quotes the Alzheimer's society - however the comment that embryonic stem cells are going to be useful in Alzheimer's is contradicted by stem-cell researcher Michael Shelanski, co-director of the Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer's Disease and the Aging Brain at Columbia University Medical Center, the "chance of doing repairs to Alzheimer's brains by putting in stem cells is small." U.S. Rep. Dave Weldon (R-Florida), a practicing physician, agrees: "Whether embryonic or adult stem cells, Alzheimer's disease is one of the least likely where stem cells could be useful." When asked why ESC proponents claim it could treat Alzheimer's, one ESC researcher said, "People need a fairy tale."
ESC-based cure for Alzheimer's a "fairy tale"

The fact is that anyone following the stem cell debate has known for some time that embryonic stem cells can cause cancerous tumours to form, see: Scientific problems with embryonic stem cells (note the date, as long ago as 2001)

Good as it is to see the whole range of media reporting accurately about the problems with embryonic stem cells, it is disappointing that the articles do not mention adult stem cells, not even once, and the headlines "stem cells overhyped" give the impression that all of "stem cell research" is overhyped, whereas in fact, adult stem cell research has been too much ignored and left out entirely for example out of the "stem cell milesstones" that are sometimes listed on articles.

It is not that there is a shortage of articles about adult or umbilical cord blood success stories. They do appear occasionally in the media, whether in relation to blindness being treated using adult stem cells, or a paralysed woman who was treated, or clinical trials for heart disease in London using bone marrow stem cells. It is just that when embryonic stem cells are being reported, adult stem cells seem to have been forgotten entirely. Given that the public said in a recent YouGov poll that they didn't know enough about stem cell research, maybe it is time for a lot more coverage of the successes of adult stem cells featured on these websties stem cell research and Comment on Reproductive Ethics

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