Religion and law round-up – 1st March

A week in which the Roman Catholic bishops caused less of a stir with their pastoral letter than the Anglicans had, abortion law was left untouched, but mitochondrial donation was approved…

Gender-selective abortion

On Monday the Commons rejected a cross-party bid to clarify in law that abortion on the grounds of gender alone is illegal in the UK. An amendment by Fiona Bruce, co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group, to the Serious Crime Bill to that effect [new clause 1] was defeated by 292 to 201; but an amendment to provide for a review of the extent of gender selection abortion in England, Wales and Northern Ireland [new clause 25] was agreed to by 491 to 2. The wording of the defeated amendment is significant, in that in relation to the termination of pregnancy on the grounds of the sex of the unborn child, it would have provided that:

‘Nothing in section 1 of the Abortion Act 1967 is to be interpreted as allowing a pregnancy to be terminated on the grounds of the sex of the unborn child.’

The chair of the Commons Select Committee on Health, Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) (Con) suggested that the new clause 1 would have unintended consequences, in that the use of the “very emotive term, ‘the unborn child’ … would change the meaning within the Abortion Act”, 23 Feb 2015 Vol 593(111) Col 129. Whilst the Act uses the word “child” the context of circumstances after its birth, section 1(1)(d), “it does not confer personhood on the foetus in the way that this change would.”[1] However, she urged hon. Members to revisit this issue “and give it the time it deserves. Let us debate it on its ethical merits, not try to pretend that we are talking about something else.”

Mitochondrial donation in UK law

Following the four-hour debate, much of it concerned with Lord Deben’s unsuccessful “wrecking amendment”[2], the two procedures in the draft Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Mitochondrial Donation) Regulations 2015 are now part of UK law. Continue reading