By Hilary White

  LONDON, May 20, 2008 ( – Twice this weekend, pro-life advocates in Britain were shocked as some of those ostensibly on their side have scored a pair of “own-goals” against their own cause.

  The political lobby group Passion for Life mailed a postcard to churches and pro-life supporters asking them to contact their MPs to ask that the legal gestational time limit for abortion be lowered from 24 to 20 weeks. Passion for Life is a branch of the Parliamentary All-Party Pro-life Group that is made up of MPs who hold some pro-life views but not a coherent pro-life philosophy. A member of the Group, for example, Ann Widdecombe, while being broadly against abortion, supports artificial procreation that results in the deaths of countless human embryos. 

  The postcard read, “Abortion should be rare”. It went on to support the efforts by Conservative backbench MP Nadine Dorries and others to lower the gestational age limit for legal abortion. The card says, “In the UK, a child is aborted every minute of every working hour. For the first time in 18 years, MPs are trying to change the abortion law. They want to make it more common. Now is the time to draw the line.”

  The pro-life position, however, as held by the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), is that abortion should be stopped and made illegal and is under no circumstances ever acceptable. The postcard’s slogan closely echoes the expression popularized by former US president Bill Clinton, described by pro-life advocates as the most pro-abortion president in US history, who said that abortion should be “Safe, legal and rare”. The use of the expression is common in the US among politicians who describe themselves as “personally opposed” to abortion but who continue to support it remaining legal.

  British pro-life bloggers and their readers commented on the postcard succinctly, calling it “drivel” and “political pandering”. One said, “It’s the equivalent of saying, ‘Child rape should be rare’ or ‘Bashing the skulls of the elderly should be rare’.”

  In addition, experienced pro-life advocates have repeatedly warned that efforts to lower the age limit would result only in the removal of all existing restrictions on legal abortion.

  A second gaffe from the pro-life side came yesterday from Archbishop Vincent Nichols, the head of the Catholic diocese of Birmingham, who told a BBC radio interviewer that human beings at the embryonic stage do not have the same moral worth as adults and that the Catholic teaching on the subject is ambiguous. Nichols told BBC Radio 4 programme World at One, “What we’ve been trying to say all along is ‘What is the value that we give to human life in its first beginnings?’ Now clearly it’s not the same as we would give to another adult sitting next to me…”

  This, however, is directly contrary to the teaching of the Catholic Church outside Birmingham. In his seminal document on the subject, Evangelium Vitae, the late Pope John Paul II wrote, “Human life is sacred and inviolable at every moment of existence, including the initial phase which precedes birth.”

  Archbishop Nichols’ name is rumoured to be at the top of the Vatican’s “terna”, or official list of recommendations to replace the soon-to-retire Cormac Cardinal Murphy O’Connor to the see of Westminster and the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales.

  Later, Archbishop Nichols told the BBC interviewer, “In your introduction I think you quite rightly said that these [the question of saviour siblings] are painful dilemmas and I don’t believe there are black and white answers.”

  SPUC Director, John Seaton, has asked Archbishop Nichols to “make clear” whether he believes the creation of “saviour siblings” is in keeping with the teaching of the Catholic Church. Smeaton wrote that apart from the fact that such embryos are chosen only after the testing and discarding of many other human embryos until a genetic match can be found, “[C]reating a human embryo in order for him or her to become a tissue donor for a sibling is contrary to the human dignity of that embryo.”

  The furore in Britain over abortion and artificial procreation surrounds a series of votes this week on the most controversial of the provisions of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFE) Bill currently working its way through Parliament. The Labour party, after intense pressure from the public, the opposition and backbench MPs, and after a crushing defeat in local elections earlier this month, agreed to allow MPs a free vote on some individual propositions in the bill.

  Proposed amendments by pro-abortion MPs include dropping the requirement for two doctors’ signatures to certify abortion; allowing nurses and other practitioners who are not doctors to abort children; extending the Abortion Act to cover Northern Ireland; and removing the right of doctors to conscientiously object to arranging or performing an abortion. The Abortion Act 1967 allows abortion up to twenty-four weeks gestation if there is no suspicion the child will be disabled, but there is no restriction is there is a “substantial risk” of a disability. 

  Today MPs are scheduled to vote on the proposal in the bill to abolish the requirement that fertility clinics consider the child’s need for a father. The bill would allow single women and lesbians to have artificial procreation treatments considering instead only the “need for “supportive parenting”. MP Iain Duncan Smith has proposed an amendment to the bill to retain the “need for a father”. The vote is expected around 6:30 pm GMT.

  Later this evening, MPs will vote on the upper time limit for abortion. Votes are expected on proposals to change the limit to 12, 14, 16, 18, 20 and 22 weeks. Prime Minister Gordon Brown and most of the Labour caucus support keeping the time limit at 24 weeks, the highest of any country of the European Union.

  Read related coverage:

  Late Term Abortions in UK Up to 3000 a Year
  But MPs’ attempt to lower age limit will backfire say experienced pro-life advocates

  UK Efforts to Lower Abortion Age Limit will Backfire with More Abortions than Ever