Key amendments to the government’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill – which include the biggest attacks on abortion rights for 18 years – were being debated as Socialist Worker went to press.
Right wing MPs have tried to hijack the bill, which relates mainly to regulations on embryo research and fertility treatment.
Disgracefully, high profile cabinet ministers Ruth Kelly, Des Browne and Paul Murphy all voted on Monday to support right wing amendments restricting embryo research, raising fears that some Labour MPs and ministers may vote to cut the 24-week time limit for abortion.
Amendments have been put to lower the abortion time limit to anything between 12 and 22 weeks. Right wingers say this is about stopping “late abortions”.
In fact less than 2 percent of all abortions take place after 20 weeks. But any cut in the time limit for abortion would hit the most vulnerable women – those who are young, frightened, have mental health or addiction problems or who are traumatised by a pregnancy as a result of rape.
Any limit in abortion rights is an attack on the right of working class women to control their bodies and their lives – rich women can always access abortion regardless of the law.
Two key votes on amendments to the government’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill took place on Monday night.
Amendments to limit or ban the creation of hybrid embryos and to ban “saviour siblings” were defeated by a margin of two to one.
Hybrid or “admixed” embryos are created by combining human and animal DNA. Stem cells harvested from the embryos can be used to research treatments for diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease and repair damaged tissue.
Claims that the measure would lead to “Frankenstein” creations are ludicrous. The embryos can only be kept for up to 14 days and cannot be implanted into a womb of a woman or animal to develop further.
The creation of so-called “saviour siblings” is aimed at making it easier to treat seriously ill children by selecting an embryo that genetically matches an existing child, so that cells from the sibling can be used to treat the child’s illness.
The defeat of amendments aimed at preventing such measures is a step forward.
Gordon Brown has stated his commitment to these measures along with maintaining the 24-week limit for abortion. But his actions have been drastically different from his words.
Brown allowed Labour MPs a free vote on the amendments after coming under pressure from Catholic cabinet members.
He should have insisted on a whip for Labour MPs to vote according to the policy they were elected on, instead of embarking on yet more spineless pandering to the right.
Abortion rights activists were preparing to protest at parliament on Tuesday as the debate took on abortion took place.
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