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Cardinal asks Hewitt for abortion review

posted on 21 June 2006

The Archbishop of Westminster this afternoon held a private meeting with the Secretary of State for Health, Patricia Hewitt.

Among the items discussed at the Department of Health were abortion reform and the way bioethical decisions are reached.

The Cardinal told Mrs Hewitt that it was time for Parliament to review the 1967 Abortion Act in the face of mounting concern in the country at the frequency and number of abortions.

The Cardinal believes that the legislation needs re-examining by Parliament, as was recommended last year in a report by the Commons Science and Technology Committee. Its chairman, Ian Gibson MP, has signed an early day motion tabled by Geraldine Smith MP, calling for such a review.

The Cardinals meeting with the Health Secretary follows polls showing that most women in Britain want the law tightened to make it harder to terminate a pregnancy. 

The Cardinal said:

This is not primarily a religious issue. It is a human issue. Abortion is the wrong  answer to fear and insecurity. As a society we need to look at ways of supporting women who find themselves in an unplanned pregnancy.

There are now 190,000 abortions each year more than 20 per cent of all pregnancies in the UK.  Each one of these is a tragedy both for the unborn child and the mother.There is substantial and growing disquiet in Britain at the numbers of abortions.  Our laws should reflect this disquiet. I welcome what appears to be a moral awakening, especially among women, to the reality that abortion is the deliberate ending of a human life. People know, perhaps instinctively, that the goodness of a society is known not by its wealth but by the way which it treats the most vulnerable of human beings, the ones with little or no claim on public attention.

Millions of people, especially women, would like to see a review of the current law. I hope that members of both houses of Parliament will respond by setting up a joint committee to carry out a thorough review of the 1967 Abortion Act.

On the question of whether he was calling for a lower upper limit, the Cardinal said:

Whilst I would welcome any move to reduce the number of abortions in Britain, the Church will continue to state that abortion is the wrongful taking of human life.

Bioethics commission

The Cardinal also urged the Health Secretary to back his call for a national bioethics commission, of the sort that exists in most west European countries, as well as Australia and the United States.

The Cardinal believes that the current mechanisms are inadequate for dealing with ethical dilemmas posed by new technologies such as embryonic stem-cell research and genetic screening of embryos used in IVF.

The HFEA and other regulatory bodies give out licences after deliberating on ethical questions behind closed doors.

There is public disquiet at the lack of openness and consultation over important ethical  issues affecting the future of society. The public need greater assurance that these big issues are being given adequate attention and not decided by unaccountable bodies, the Cardinal said.

The Cardinal believes that a single statutory body is needed to provide authoritative guidance to Parliament and Government, and to help raise awareness in the media and in society at large of the complex issues involved.  We need greater public involvement, he said, adding:

Science is speeding ahead of our capacity for reflection. We need a far broader public debate about these vital questions, which touch on the very origin and sanctity of life.


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posted on 21 June 2006

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