By Hilary White

LONDON, December 12, 2007 ( – The UK’s Observer reports that a group of Labour MP’s is preparing to defy party whips and oppose the government’s proposed Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. 40 backbenchers, led by MP Jim Dobbin, will tell party whips and the Prime Minister of their objections to the bill.

The Labour government announced earlier that all MP’s will be whipped to vote with the government on the bill, despite it being considered a “conscience” matter, an unusual move in British politics but now common in other countries such as Canada. In November the Daily Telegraph reported on “growing backbench unease” with some of the provisions of the bill that prompted a Labour party crack-down.

Dobbin, Labour MP for Heywood and Middleton in the Midlands, is the chairman of the UK Parliamentary all-party Pro Life Group. When the Commons committee studying the 1967 Abortion Act recommended loosening the abortion requirements, Dobbin criticised the Committee’s position saying their report “reflected a clear pursuit of an ideological position that puts women’s health in danger.

“We believe there is clear a scientific case to be made to reduce the upper limit for social abortions from 24-weeks. This is an ill-advised and badly thought-through set of recommendations which does not reflect changing attitudes to abortion in the country.”

The proposed embryo legislation has been blasted by religious leaders and others for its proposals to allow human/animal hybrid cloning and the denial of a child’s need for a father in cases of conception by in vitro fertilisation.

The Observer says the move by the backbenchers follows a meeting with Cormac Cardinal Murphy O’Connor, the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, by MP’s from all parties who agreed to work more closely with church leaders on political issues.

At the same time, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has announced it will not prohibit multiple embryo IVF treatment. Some European legislators have called for a restriction similar to the law in Italy that mandates the number of embryos created by in vitro fertilisation must be implanted in a woman’s uterus.

The HFEA has instead announced a national strategy involving guidelines drawn up by professional groups in an attempt to reduce the rates of multiple births. Walter Merricks, the interim chairman of the HFEA, wrote to Health Minister Dawn Primarolo calling on the government to pay for more free cycles of treatment to help with the plan.

He said, “We always have in mind that still the greatest risk in the eyes of patients is the risk of not having a baby. Women with access to only one funded cycle of treatment are only acting rationally if they beg for a double embryo transfer in their single chance of becoming pregnant.”

Multiple pregnancy is often followed by a “selective reduction” where one or more children in the womb are “selected” and killed.

Merricks dismissed the problem saying, “The risk of a twin pregnancy seems nothing to the risk of no pregnancy.”

Read related coverage:

Britain’s Labour Party to Force MP’s to Support Embryology Bill