By Hilary White

CARDIFF, Wales, September 30, 2008 ( – In a letter to priests and parishioners and the whole of the Catholic laity of England and Wales, the Catholic archbishop of Cardiff in Wales has said “time is of the essence” in writing to defeat the government’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. Archbishop Peter Smith has written himself to Prime Minister Gordon Brown calling for a free vote on behalf of MPs who, he says, are morally confused over the bill.

Archbishop Smith told his flock, “It is important that as many people as possible write urgently to their MP.”

“If you have time,” he added, “you might also write to the Prime Minister.”

Archbishop Smith chairs the Department of Christian Responsibility and Citizenship of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales – the department of the Conference responsible for legislation, policy, healthcare and bioethics.

“Time is of the essence, as approaches to MPs would need to be made over the next few weeks,” he added.

In his letter to clergy, he said it would be “very helpful” if clergy could “in a suitable way” guide the attention of the parishioners by giving them the leaflet on the issue that accompanied the letter.

MPs are confused, he said, and they require a free vote in Parliament. The Labour party, ailing in the polls, is reported to be planning a whipped vote when the bill comes back to the House.

Archbishop Smith told BBC Radio 4, “Those MPs who have approached me over recent weeks have said: ‘Look, I don’t think this is right. I accept the teachings of the Church, yet I am a Government minister, or I am a Labour MP. Can I discuss with you the moral dilemma I have got?’”

“I have written to the prime minister myself asking him that, in view of these very important issues which touch on the sacredness of human life, its meaning and purpose, would he please grant a free vote, because that is what is really required,” Archbishop Smith continued.

Giving practical advice on how to approach Members of Parliament, the archbishop’s leaflet said, “Letters are most effective when they are written in your own words and express what you are most concerned about.

“For example, if you are a nurse, say so, and say if and why you would not want nurses to do abortions. Most of these amendments would make abortion more widespread, would lead to women having less time to think before abortion, and leave women facing abortion at home and alone without medical supervision. They would also remove the last vestige of protection for the unborn child. How do you feel about this?”

The leaflet lists the moral objections to the bill that directly sanctions the creation of human/animal hybrid cloned embryos to be used and killed in experimentation.

Proposed amendments would remove the “mental health” abortion requirement, changing the law to simply allow abortion on demand, and remove the need for two doctors to sign for abortion. Also, nurses and midwives may be allowed to commit abortions, even late term surgical abortions. This would mean that nurse and midwife education would necessarily include abortion as part of the training regimen.

The bill also seeks to abolish the requirement of in vitro fertilisation facilities to take into account the child’s “need for a father” in assessing patients. It would also allow the creation of “saviour sibling” embryos to be used as tissue donors. Amendments also propose to use the bill to force full legalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland.

Pressure is increasing on the Labour Party over the bill. Last week, a senior Catholic Labour MP, Ruth Kelley, resigned her cabinet post ostensibly to spend more time with her family. However, Labour insiders at the party’s conference in Manchester last week said that Kelley had been informed she would be forced to vote for the legislation with the party, despite the tradition in British politics of allowing free votes on such contentious issues.

The bill was set to be put to a vote this session, but the party postponed the vote until the autumn.

Read related coverage:

Defeat Embryo Bill and Abortion Amendments say UK Parliamentarians

UK Reproductive Tech Bill Allows Much More Than Human/Animal Hybrids

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

Three Catholic Labour Cabinet Ministers to Revolt on Embryo Bill


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