Embryology vote leaves lobbyists out in the cold

21 May 2008

by Ed Beavan

Frustrated plea: lobbying of Parliament during the debate on Tuesday BENEDICT PARSONS

Frustrated plea: lobbying of Parliament during the debate on Tuesday BENEDICT PARSONS

CAMPAIGNERS have expressed their disappointment after the Government survived four attempts to amend the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, during two highly charged days of debate in the Commons this week.

During the second reading of the Bill in Parliament on Monday, MPs rejected an attempt to ban hybrid human-animal embryos by 336 votes to 176. An amendment to ban “saviour siblings”, babies born from embryos created through IVF as a tissue match for a sibling with a genetic condition, was rejected by 342 to 163.

Earlier in the week, the Roman Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of England and Wales, Scotland, and Ireland donated £25,000 to a charity carrying out adult stem-cell research that does not involve destroying human embryos.

On Tuesday night, attempts to reduce the upper limit for abortion from 24 weeks to 22 weeks or 20 weeks were also rejected by MPs. Anti-abortion and pro-choice campaigners demonstrated outside Parliament as the debate took place.

Nadine Dorries MP, a former nurse, who proposed the 20-week limit, said: “There comes a point when it has to be said this baby has a right to life.” But her amendment was defeated by 332 votes to 190; an attempt to bring in a 22-week limit was opposed by 304 votes to 233.

A cross-party bid, spearheaded by the former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith, to ensure that fertility clinics considered a child’s need for a father before approving IVF treatment was rejected by 292 to 217.

A second vote on the issue calling for the need for a father or male role-model before IVF treatment also went the Government’s way, by 290 votes to 222.

Dr Peter Saunders, general secretary of the Christian Medical Fellowship, said he was very disappointed with the results of the free votes, but not surprised. The Government had effectively set up a three-line whip on the votes by insisting that all Labour MPs attend the debate, even though, once there, they were allowed to vote with their conscience.

“The Government was rattled by the strength of feeling shown by the public on the issue of abortion, but has chosen to ignore medical opinion and ride roughshod over it, particularly with regard to the upper limit.

“During the debate on the role of fathers in IVF, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing in the chamber. It was a very modest measure recognising the importance of male role-models for children, and there is a huge body of research which shows the link between fatherlessness and family breakdown. It’s a tragedy that Parliament no longer sees the important role of fathers.”

Andrea Minchiello Williams, public policy director of Christian Concern for Our Nation, which campaigned against hybrid embryos, said that it was inconceivable to think these votes would have got through a decade ago.

“This needs to be a wake-up call for the Church. . . This is rewriting God’s model for society, which says a child needs a mother and a father. It’s an assault on God’s way.”

Julia Millington of the Alive and Kicking Alliance, which includes CARE and the Evangelical Alliance, said they would continue to push for a reduction of the 24-week upper limit for abortion.

“We commend those MPs who worked so hard to bring about change against such determined opposition, and we will continue to work for further reform of the abortion law for the benefit of both women and their babies.

“We seek an end to discriminatory abortion for disabled babies, and would like to introduce a charter of consent, so that women with unplanned pregnancies have the time, space, information and support necessary to make a fully informed choice.”

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