Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill: postponed
Progress Educational Trust20 July 2008
Amidst opposition outcry, the government announced last Thursday that final stages of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill would be postponed until October. Labour MPs and the Department of Health were among those to accuse Gordon Brown of rescheduling in order to avoid losing votes in the forthcoming Glasgow East by-election, which affords a large proportion of Catholic voters. The announcement, made by Commons Leader Rt Hon Harriet Harman, was an apparently snap decision, made during a private meeting of Labours parliamentary committee on Wednesday.
Quoted in the BBC, Tory shadow minister Theresa May, questioned the rational behind this decision. 'Can we have an explanation from the Rt Hon lady as to why this bill has been pulled from next week's business, at the last possible moment? And will she give an absolute guarantee to this House that this decision had nothing whatsoever to do with the forthcoming Glasgow East by-election?,' she asked.
In defence, Ms Harman argued that the delay was to allow the most controversial aspects of the bill, which covers stem cell research, the 'need for a father' in IVF and abortion laws, to be debated in full. 'Of course the bill remains a flagship government bill ... as much time as possible needs to be found for it and the other issues that the government are committed to. It would therefore be good to look for a date in the autumn,' she said.
Proposed amendments on abortion laws, due to be put forward by government backbenchers during the now delayed third reading of the bill, would see an end to the rule stipulating that a minimum of two doctors must approve all abortions, and open the doors for nurses to give abortions and for home abortions to be carried out, by means of a pill, for women less than 9 weeks pregnant.
Others to support the claim that the decision was influenced by the by-election include Jim Dobbin, the Labour MP and chairman of Parliament's pro-life group, Tory MP Nadine Dorries, who has led a campaign to tighten abortion laws, and David Mundell, the shadow Scottish secretary.
Dr Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrat MP who was planning to table the abortion amendments, welcomed the delay. 'Unless you were running a gynaecologist versus a priest, no by-election would be affected by a vote on abortion,' he told The Guardian. 'We needed more time to debate our amendment than just the three hours we were going to get and so asked for and got more time.'
Reproduced with permission from BioNews, an email and online sources of news, information and comment on assisted reproduction and genetics.