Ultrasound Re-ignites British Abortion Debate
LONDON — British Prime Minister Tony Blair's indication that there may be a possible reduction in the legal time limit of when abortions can be carried out, because of scientific developments, has drawn mixed responses from pro-life groups and Church leaders in Britain.
A week after British newspapers published ultrasound pictures showing 12-week-old babies moving, sucking their thumbs and even seeming to walk in the womb, Blair suggested that Britain's current 24-week time limit for abortions for “social” reasons could be shortened.
“I have not had an opportunity myself to study in detail the evidence that has been provided,” Blair said July 7 in the House of Commons. “But I am sure that if the situation does change then it would be advisable for us to have another look at the whole question. If the scientific evidence has shifted, then it is obviously sensible for us to take that into account. If we have proposals to put before the House, we will put them.”
The abortion debate was reignited after a new type of ultrasound scan last month produced vivid pictures of a 12-week-old fetus in the womb. The 3-D scan was developed by Stuart Campbell, an obstetrician and professor at a private London clinic.
Meanwhile, Lord Steel, the architect of Britain's 1967 Abortion Act, which set a time limit of 28 weeks before it was reduced to 24 weeks in 1990, has led calls for the time limit to be reduced to 22 weeks. However, he also wants mothers to be able to have abortions on demand in the first three months of pregnancy, as happens in France. In the UK, two doctors must agree to the termination.
Lord Steel said restricting a mother's right to an abortion by reducing the 24-week upper limit had to be balanced by the fact that some fetuses had survived after being born at 22 weeks into a pregnancy. “I think people find it very repugnant to think you are getting close to the point where you are not dealing with a fetus but with the possibility of a baby,” he said.
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor of Westminster said, “The Catholic Church has always been totally opposed to abortion. The latest pictures of a child in the womb have rightly shocked people into rethinking the morality of the present law. I am very glad the prime minister has given his support to a review.”
Archbishop Peter Smith of Cardiff, chairman of the bishops' conference Department of Christian Responsibility and Citizenship said, “I would warmly welcome a review of the legal time limit for abortions. Advances in fetal medicine reveal more and more clearly the humanity of the unborn child. Faced with this evidence, it is not surprising that so many people now call for a change in the abortion law.”
Added Archbishop Smith, “Tragically, our present law has been used to sanction killing the unborn on a massive scale. I hope that people of all faiths and none will mobilize the political will to curb the practice of abortion which undermines the very foun
ner of the Bishops-Ulama (Islamic scholars) Conference in the southern Philippines, also said fellow coconvener Mahid Mutilan, vice governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, appealed via satellite television to an Iraqi Muslim leader after meeting with de la Cruz's family.
The vice governor was flown to Clark Field in Pampanga, where he made the appeal.
The de la Cruz family is from a farming community about 40 miles northwest of Manila.
Archbishop Capalla said Mutilan told Iraqi religious leaders in Arabic: “Christians and Muslims have been in dialogue for many years, working with each other for peace in Mindanao. If you kill this man now, you are destroying our efforts for peace in the Philippines and it would not be a correct interpretation of Islam.”
As a result of the appeal, 32 dation of a civilized society.”
Professor Jack Scarisbrick, national chairman of the anti-abortion group Life, reacted more cautiously to calls for the lowering the legal time limit for abortion.
“There is a worrying aspect to this review,” Scarisbrick said. “The pro-abortion lobby, and in particular Lord Steel, and leading abortion providers such as the Family Planning Association, has seized upon this rethink on the time limit to call for early abortion to be made even easier. If this is the eventual outcome, then it is something to be feared.”
Added Scarisbrick, “The latest pictures of children walking in the womb, sucking their thumbs, smiling and even crying, have certainly pricked consciences. But it seems that we are considering lowering the legal limit dependent on the stage at which the most striking and appealing pictures of unborn babies occur. An unborn child's life is just as valuable on the day of its conception as it is when it begins ‘walking,’ smiling and sucking its thumb.”
Anthony Ozimic, political secretary of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, attacked Lord Steel's contribution to the debate.
“Lord Steel's proposal is not aimed at reducing the numbers of abortions, as his call for a general ban on abortions after 12 weeks was accompanied with a promotion of abortion on demand before 12 weeks,” Ozimic said. “Lord Steel is trying to lead parliamentarians into the trap of repeating the mistake of 1990, when a bill to restrict the time limit for abortions backfired and led to the legalization of abortion up to birth for handicap.”
Said Ozimic, “Parliamentarians owe it to the smallest and vulnerable human beings not to back half-baked proposals which will lead to even more killing by abortion. Parliamentarians must not be deceived by such Trojan horses, which hide an agenda for total deregulation of abortion.”
Added Ozimic, “It is essential that legislative proposals aimed at changing the abortion law are not put to parliament in this, the most anti-life parliament in history, because we are certain that a majority of MPs would vote to make abortion even more widely available. The pro-abortion lobby are not only actively campaigning for abortion on demand but also for abortions to be performed by non-doctors, the specific targeting of nurses to become abortion-ists and the provision of chemical abortion in family planning clinics.”
Greg Watts writes from London.
- July 25-August 7, 2004