AN "I lth hour, 59th minute" attempt to curb the worst excesses of the Embryo Bill was due to be debated late this week in the House of Lords.
The amendment, tabled by Catholic peer Lord Rawlinson of Ewell, Tory ex-nurse Baroness Cox, Labour former speaker Viscount Tonypandy and surgeon Lord McColl of Dulwich, sought to amend the clause in the Embryo Bill which would allow abortion up to birth in some circumstances, by requiring doctors who perform late terminations to "take reasonable steps" to ensure that the child is born alive. Pro-life peers, including the Duke of Norfolk, were also hoping to re-establish a link between the Infant Life Preservation Act of 1929 and abortion legislation, which would make it illegal to abort any child capable of being born alive. This link was severed during earlier debates in the House of Commons.
Christopher Whitehouse, clerk to the all-party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group, said the current working of the Embryo Bill presented antiabortionists with "a nightmare situation". Even getting the last-ditch amendments through the Lords at the end of this week would still, he said, mean abortion legislation was more liberal as a result of the Embryo Bill than it had been before.
If any pro-life amendments were successful in getting through the House of Lords, said Mr Whitehouse, government business managers would be left with the headache of having to squeeze the debate into the Commons agenda within the next fortnight. If they failed, it would mean the bill which was sponsored by the government — would be killed off by the start of the next Parliamentary session.