Abortion dominates debate as lesbian fertility rights come before Commons

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The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill is back before MPs this week. If it passes the Commons without amendments on Wednesday it will become law.

In May MPs voted to remove the requirement for doctors to consider the need for a father when assessing women for ferility treatments as part of the bill.

Doctors will instead consider whether a child will have ‘supportive parenting.’

More than 100 amendments to the bill have been put forward for debate on Wednesday. If any of them succeed then the bill will return to the Lords, where it could come under renewed scrutiny.

Opponents of abortion have put pressure on legislators over the bill.

Fundamentalist group Christian Concern For Our Nation said:

“This is a critical moment in the history of our nation.

“The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill is an affront to God and strikes at the heart of His created order, devaluing human life and dignity.

“It threatens individual, family and societal life more than any other piece of legislation for decades.

“It was nearly 20 years ago when abortion was last debated in Parliament and it may be a similar length of time before it is looked at again.”

MPs who oppose abortion have given up on using the bill to reduce the legal limit for abortion.

Nadine Dorries, the Tory MP and pro-life campaigner who is a former nurse, has instead called for a parliamentary committee to consider the issue.

Tory MP Angela Watkinson is proposing a new clause “to ensure that any woman who makes a decision to go ahead with a termination of her pregnancy does so having been offered counselling and having been provided with a range of information as to the likely risks.”

Other MPs are backing measures to extend abortion to Northern Ireland, a proposal opposed by most of the province’s political parties.

Given the number of amendments, the government is expected to push the Northern Ireland measure to the back of the queue, meaning it will not be debated.

Amendments that would ease access to abortion include reducing the number of doctors required to give consent from two to one and allowing nurses to carry out abortions.

Several amendments concerning the rights of same-sex couples to both be named on the birth certificates of their children have been tabled, but are again expected not to get priority.

MPs voted in favour of the Human Fertilisation Bill at second reading in May by 340 votes to 78.

They voted 292 to 217 against an amendment by former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith that would have retained the need for a father.

A second amendment that would have required consideration of “a father or a male role model” was defeated by 290 votes to 222.

In a well-attended debate in the House, MPs from all sides argued passionately about the role of fathers and the rights of lesbians and single women to be treated equally.

They voted in favour of the creation of so-called ‘saviour siblings,’ children who genetically match a sick brother or sister, and human-animal embryos for research purposes, which are destroyed after 14 days.

Many of the amendments on gay issues proposed for Wednesday’s debate cover the same ground, another reason they are unlikely to be debated.

The Leader of the Commons, Harriet Harman, has rejected calls for more time to discuss the bill.

“We have already had 81 hours of debate across the two Houses on that Bill, so we have sought to make adequate time available to debate that important issue,” she told MPs earlier this month.

“Additionally, there have been two full days of debate on the Floor of the House, followed by a free vote on those issues of conscience. When the Bill comes back to this House, we will have further opportunity for debate.”

In May the bulk of the Shadow Cabinet voted in favour of an amendment that would have retained a requirement on doctors to consider the need for a father when assessing women for IVF treatment.

The government argued that the consideration has been used to disciminate against lesbians and single women, and they defeated the amendment, which was proposed by former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith.

All three main parties gave their MPs a free vote on the issue during earlier stages of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill.

Labour MPs will be expected to back the bill on Wednesday, but will get a free vote on abortion issues.

It has been reported that Ruth Kelly, the Roman Catholic Cabinet minister who resigned from the government last month, is going to rebel and vote against the bill on Wednesday.