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Thursday, 9 October 2008


On the 22 October, on the back of a Bill on Human Fertilisation and Embryology, MPs will have a free vote on a series of amendments to restrict women’s abortion rights as well as others to modernise them.

Evan Harris MP stressed, “This is a once in a generation opportunity” at an Abortion Rights meeting this week. Rarely will the chance arise again, of a pro-choice majority in Parliament and a neutral House of Lords, to take the opportunity to remove the penalties on women’s bodies and extend fundamental human rights across the UK. “It would be crazy to miss out on this opportunity!” Evan Harris added.

The Abortion Rights meeting joined together cross party MPs, trade union officials and leading campaigners from both the UK and Northern Ireland. Changing the venue for the third time that week proved worthwhile. The committee room was packed with Lords, Baronesses, MPs, campaigners and general public perched on steps, sitting in aisles and hanging at the back.

Support to improve the rights of women in such an important Bill was clear in this room. But MPs painted a bleak picture of constituency offices where the letters and emails they receive from anti-abortion campaigners out number those from pro-choice people almost 1,000 to one. “Do not underestimate those against us”, said Katy Clarke MP said. Religious campaigners are highly organised; they have a pre-organised meeting each Sunday and are very organised.

There are 22 amendments tabled for a maximum three-hour debate on the 22 October and the majority of them won’t have time to be discussed. But the future of this generation of women’s health and freedom to equality lies within these amendments so it is important that both the public and politicians understand them.

A full list of all the amendments, explained in layman’s terms are here: Please read through them and find the ones that are important to you. Then, as a matter of urgency, email or write to your MP today and explain why it is so vital for to you that they vote a certain way. Information on how your MP voted in previous votes on abortion and model letters to send to them are available here:

Bills on abortion rarely arise; the last time women were awarded more freedoms on abortion was in 1967. Since then, in 1990 the abortion limit was reduced from 28 to 24 weeks. Various anti-abortion Private Members Bills have been attempted but have never got through.

I plan to continue blogging on abortion leading up to the Bill. In my next blog on the issue, I want to raise the plight of our sisters in Northern Ireland who have no real options to terminate a pregnancy, despite the fact they are UK citizens and are taxed to the same extent as those of us in mainland Britain.


PaulineG said...

Hi Mary,

May I just remind you that you have not yet answered my question on your "embryology and blogging" post earlier this month?

You said the Embryology Bill was in the Labour Party manifesto for the last election. I asked you where, exactly

Mary Honeyball said...

Hi Paul,

The Embryology Bill was referred to in the Queens Speech and the Manifesto.

"A Bill will be brought forward to reform the regulation of human embryology and to ensure that Britain remains at the forefront of medical research."

Two of the references to the bill in the Manifesto include

On pg 57

"But it also means fundamentally reforming the NHS to meet new challenges – a more demanding citizenry with higher expectations, major advances in science and medical technology,changes in the composition and needs of the population."

Page 21

"Our pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries are world leaders. We have created one of the world’s best environments for stem-cell

The acceptance of collective responsibility is a long established part of Government is this country. All I am asking is that when ministers cannot accept this collective responsibility they resign from cabinet.

Thanks and regards,

Mary Honeyball MEP

PaulineG said...


Thank you for your reply. But is this really all you can offer as evidence to back your claim that the Embryology Bill was in the manifesto?

All you have provided from the manifesto is a commitment to reforms of the NHS to reflect technological developments and a dubious claim as to the role of the UK in stem cell research (which fails to distinguish between ethical stem cell research, which is successful, and embryonic stem cell research, which is not).

I am astounded that you could seriously make the claim that ANY embryology Bill was “in the Labour manifesto” on the basis of these quotes never mind THE embryology Bill currently before Parliament.

The Queen’s speech from which you quote, as you must know, was given last November and therefore provides no evidence as to what was in the 2005 Manifesto.

Just let me remind you what is actually in this Bill:


It widens the scope for the deliberate creation and use of human embryos for destructive research, thus permitting the further commodification of early human life. Classic slippery slope – now that we have become de-sensitised to what we are already doing we can get away with more of it and with even weaker pseudo-justifications.

This country is acting contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine by virtue of permitting the intentional creation of human embryos for research. Britain and Belgium alone in Europe have not sign up to this convention and were thus already ethically isolated even before this latest proposed extension.

Where is this proposal in the manifesto?


It widens the scope for the eugenic selection of embryos prior to implantation. Slippery slope again.

Where is this proposal in the manifesto?


It permits the creation of human/animal hybrid embryos including so-called “true” hybrids created by the mixing of human sperm and animal eggs and vice versa.

Where is the evidence for all the extravagant claims which have been made about the benefits of such research? I have been asking the Government simply and directly to provide such evidence for months now. And so far they have failed to provide any.

Where is this proposal in the manifesto?


The law already sanctions the selection of human embryos to be implanted and brought to term so that the baby/child thus created may be harvested for its biological materials to assist an ailing sibling. But this Bill extends the range of conditions for which such activity may be sanctioned. Slippery slope again.

But there is worse – and this is truly heinous. It extends the range of materials which may be used to include any materials UP TO AND INCLUDING PART ORGANS!!

And at the same time as pouring endless funds into largely futile as well as unethical embryo research this supposedly “compassionate” Government refuses to properly facilitate and fund the collection of umbilical cord blood which can and does, where a match can be found from current very limited supplies, provide an effective ethical alternative for the ailing sibling.

Where are these proposals in the manifesto?


The Bill removes from the child created through IVF the right to either a father or a mother, substituting instead “supportive parenting”. In fact, the Bill permits, inter alia, a baby to be removed from its birth mother as early as 6 months to be handed to a commissioning person or persons even where neither is female.

Where is this proposal in the manifesto?


It permits the use of human cells for the creation of human embryos for research which are clones of the person from whom the cells originated without explicit consent in some circumstances.

And you seriously claim that all this is in the Labour manifesto?

You say “all I am asking is that when ministers cannot accept this collective responsibility they resign from the cabinet”. Well, Mary, I am not remotely interested in Westminster, or indeed Brussels, village personal attacks. But, since you are so concerned about political probity let me tell you what my concern is in that area. My concern is that politicians should not mislead the public as you have done on this.

I wish you well, but also call on you to set the record straight and commit yourself to making no more false claims about this Bill.


Pauline (not Paul)