Pro-life MPs have called for reform of the abortion law after new statistics showed that babies born at 23 weeks have a one-in-three chance of survival.
The 23-week survival rate in England and Wales was 23 per cent in 2010 and fell to 20 per cent in 2011, but has since risen, calling into question the current abortion limit in England, Wales and Scotland of 24 weeks.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that in 2014, 33 per cent of babies born at 23 weeks reached their first birthday. Survival for babies born at 24 weeks also improved.
Fiona Bruce, Conservative MP for Congleton and chairwoman of the All Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group, told the Daily Mail that the figures highlighted “how shocking it is that our current law does not recognise the rights and immense value of a baby at that stage in its life”.
She said: “In the rest of Europe, the term limit for abortions is generally around 12 weeks, apart from exceptional circumstances. So at 20 weeks, a baby in France or Germany has more rights than a baby in Britain. This is not right. Medical care has advanced and the law needs to catch up. Increasingly, these children can survive and live lives as fulfilled and valuable as any of us, and they should be given the chance to do so.”
Meanwhile, Diana Johnson, the MP for Hull North, is seeking to fully decriminalise abortion, describing the current law as “Victorian”. Her Bill is to receive its second reading in two weeks. Robert Flello, Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent said: “I think the public is behind a reduction in time limits and not abortion up to birth, which obviously is what decriminalisation would open the door to.”
Dublin debates Catholic ethos of new hospital
Irish bishops and politicians are debating the status of a new maternity hospital in Dublin. The hospital will be built on the campus of St Vincent’s Hospital, which is owned by the Sisters of Charity.
Bishop Kevin Doran of Elphin has said this means the new institution must follow a Catholic ethos. This could have implications for what procedures the hospital offers. But Irish health minister Simon Harris insisted that the maternity hospital will be independently run.
A leaked document suggests that the board of St Vincent’s Hospital will allow a deal to be struck, whereby the maternity hospital would not need to abide by a Catholic ethos.
In a statement to the Sunday Times, Bishop Doran, chair of the Irish bishops’ committee on bioethics, said: “A healthcare organisation bearing the name ‘Catholic’, while offering care to all who need it, has a special responsibility … to Catholic teachings about the value of human life and the dignity and the ultimate destiny of the human person. Public funding, while it brings with it other legal and moral obligations, does not change that responsibility.”
The bishop’s comments are at odds with campaigners who believe the hospital should provide services such as sterilisation and abortion.
In an article for the Irish Times, Dr Peter Boylan, chairman of the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, wrote: “Modern maternity and gynaecological care encompasses contraception, sterilisation, IVF, gender reassignment surgery and abortion, as well as the usual day-to-day activities of a busy maternity hospital.”
Dr Boylan said it was hard to believe that “if the hospital goes ahead according to the proposed arrangement, it will be the only maternity hospital in the world owned by the Catholic Church, and run by a company owned by the Catholic Church, that will allow these procedures”.
He concluded that “ownership of the €300 million, state-of-the-art National Maternity Hospital should be gifted to the Sisters of Charity. A lot of other people appear to share my view.”
An online petition has been launched, attracting almost 91,000 signatures, urging the Irish government to prevent the nuns from owning the hospital.
The Sisters of Charity have also come under attack because they are among the three religious orders which previously managed the infamous Magdalene laundries, prompting critics to say they are not fit to preside over maternity services.
Writing in the Irish Independent last week, David Quinn said that state organisations should be held to the same standard as religious ones.
He wrote: “The Irish State also has dark chapters in its history…Terrible abuses happened in our mental hospitals and far too many people were placed in them as dumping grounds… But very few people argue that because the State ran these places in an often disastrous way in the past, they should hand them over to other organisations in the present, because they know the State has changed its practices. Why can we not believe the same of the religious orders, including the Sisters of Charity?”
Mr Quinn also questioned the religiosity of St Vincent’s Hospital. He pointed out that St Vincent’s had not been exempt from Ireland’s 2013 legalisation of some abortions. “So how great can the Catholic influence be upon this hospital, never mind the proposed new maternity hospital?” he asked.
Archbishop hails faith of women
Archbishop Bernard Longley of Birmingham has praised Catholic women for their contribution to Catholic life. During his homily at the annual Easter Men’s Mass at St Chad’s Cathedral in Birmingham, Archbishop Longley said: “Women have helped form us in our faith and as Catholic men we give thanks for the courage and faithfulness of Christian women through the centuries.” The archbishop praised the “irreplaceable witness of Religious Sisters in the life of the Church”.
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