through Houses of Parliament
by Joanna Moorhead
THE HUMAN Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, always regarded as one of the most contentious of this Parliamentary session, will cause an even bigger storm than was first thought, it week.
For, as well as procedural battles over the wording and validity of amendments and dilemmas over whether and what to vote for, it became clear that pro-lifers inside and outside Parliament are deeply unhappy about the way an embryo is defined in the Bill, and will urgently seek to find ways to change it. But even if they succeed and the Bill is amended to describe an embryo in terms the pro-lifers are happy about, the passage of the proposed legislation through Parliament is likely to be fraught with difficulties.
The first hurdle became clear as soon as the Bill had been published. Lord Houghton of
emerged this Sowerby, a veteran Labour peer, said he would try to prevent pro-lifers using it to tighten abortion laws by introducing his own Abortion (Amendment) Bill.
His private member's bill, which seeks to lower the abortion limit to 24 weeks, has been tabled in the belief that the House of Lords rules would prevent an abortion amendment being accepted in the subsequent bill from the pro-life lobby. John Smeaton of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) said he believed Lord Houghton's bill "would effectively allow abortion up to birth" because it would enable a woman to have an abortion after 24 weeks if two doctors believed she was at risk.
Another major difficulty for pro-lifers would happen when the Bill reached the committee stage in the House of Commons. Unless a vote was taken by the whole House on the issue of whether or not to ban experimentation, pro-life MPs fear essential clauses might be
ruled out by a Standing Committee.
But the most crucial problem of all will come when the Bill reaches its third and final reading. By !hat stage there is a possibility it will be worded so that it allows embryo research up to 14 days, yet reduces the abortion time limit down to somewhere between 18 and 24 weeks. Pro-life MPs will then have to decide whether, on balance, such legislation would help their cause — or whether, overall, the act would leave the situation in a worse position than it is now. • An ITV poll run through its Oracle information service last week showed 70 per respondents were opposed to abortion.
The poll showed 1.964 people (14 per cent) were iii ins our of abortions up to 28 weeks; 2,186 (16 per cent) were in favour of a 24-week limit, and 9,512 (70 per cent) favoured no abortions at all. cent of totally