Update on Life Issues - July 2014


Abortion statistics for England and Wales 2013
The gloomy facts and figures for 2013 were published by the Department of Health on 12 June 2014.  The full set of data is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/319460/Abortion_Statistics__England_and_Wales_2013.pdf   A short summary paints a continuingly miserable picture.

The number of abortions for residents was slightly up to 185,331 compared with the previous year (185,122 in 2012), though the total for residents plus non-residents was slightly down to 190,800 (compared with 190,972 in 2012).  Basically, fewer women (3,679, compared with 3,982 in 2012) came across the sea from the Irish Republic to be aborted during 2013.

One small glimmer of hope is that the age-standardised abortion rate was down to 15.9 per 1,000 resident women aged 15-44 from 16.2 the previous year.  Even so, the figures are still massive – in Great Britain there were 202,577 abortions carried out in 2013, of which 94% took place in England and Wales and 6% (11,777) in Scotland.

As ever, the vast majority of abortions were performed under Ground C, the notorious ‘social clause’ of the Abortion Act 1967.  This means that 97.5% of the total abortions were performed because of a perceived risk to the mother’s mental health – that most flexible and infamously hard-to-define criterion.

Ground E abortions for those unborn children with suspected disability also increased.  During 2013, a total of 2,732 unborn children (1.5% of the total) were not allowed to live simply because they were deemed to be unacceptably handicapped.  While we strive to avoid discrimination against the born disabled, we do not extend such equality to the unborn disabled.

And horror of horrors, there were 125 abortions (a 52% increase on the 82 during 2012) which involved ‘selective reductions’ – the fatal stabbing of the hearts of in utero siblings of multiple pregnancies.  In 74 cases, two foetuses were reduced to one; in 28 cases, three foetuses were reduced to two and in 10 cases three foetuses were reduced to one. These were typically the result of over-zealous IVF practices.

Repeat abortions continue to rise.  Some 37% of women accessing abortion in 2013 had had at least one previously – in 2003 the figure was 32%.  An astounding total of 49 women had had 8 or more repeats.  The accusation is that many women, and their doctors, are using abortion as a means of birth control, a method of ‘contraception’.

Two age-related trends continue.  First, fewer teenagers are having abortions.  The under-18s had 11,679 abortions compared with the 2012 total of 12,873.  It is impossible to say whether this is the result of wholesome sex education, more sexual restraint, or greater use of the morning-after pill.  Second, this downward trend is reversed among older women.  Take, for example, the 30 and over age bracket, these women had 58,704 abortions compared with 57,302 the previous year.  Again, the precise causes are unknowable – career prospects, mortgage repayments and brief sexual encounters probably all played a part.

If an attempt is made to represent the typical 2013 woman having an abortion, she would be white, aged between 20 and 24, single with a partner, having no children and no previous abortions.  She would have a vacuum aspiration abortion at less than 9 weeks gestation, under Ground C, performed at a private abortion clinic funded by the NHS.

We have lost our way with abortion – government and health authorities have no idea how to address this tragic issue.  The recycled mantra of a woman’s ‘choice’ is now too simplistic.  Too many women say that they have no choice because counselling, positive alternatives and practical support are lacking.  When killing the unborn is the unremarkable response to a crisis pregnancy we have indeed lost our way – in the words of Isaiah 59:14, ‘… truth has stumbled in the streets’.

Disregard for the Abortion Act 1967
If the Abortion Act 1967 is the most shameful piece of legislation on the Statute Book, its implementation has become outrageously shocking.  Surely abortion demands to be regulated with the utmost administrative rigour and insistence upon scrupulous compliance to the law.  After all, the removal and disposal of a human foetus is a serious matter.

Yet in recent months there has been the scandal of doctors caught approving sex-selection abortions – customarily killing unborn girls – and pre-signing HSA1 abortion authorisation forms.  The 1967 Act permits an abortion only ‘if two registered medical practitioners are of the opinion, formed in good faith’ that it meets the terms of the Act.  This two doctor/good faith arrangement was originally regarded as a protective device, a safeguard against an incorrect assessment by one doctor and a too hasty decision by a pregnant woman – now it is generally regarded as little more than a rubber-stamping exercise.  How often do two doctors ever see, let alone carefully interview and examine, the abortion-requesting woman to enable them to come to their mutually agreed verdict ‘in good faith’?

The Act nowhere sanctions ‘abortion-on-demand’, yet if a woman asks for an abortion, her wish is evidently and easily granted – doctors assented at least 190,000 times last year.  Yet, how often do doctors refuse a woman’s request? Ever?  The original sponsors of the Act thought that doctors should, and would – even routinely – say, ‘No’.

Meanwhile other doctors are known to have returned the abortion notification form HAS4 to the Chief Medical Officer, as required by law, only partially completed.  Such contempt for the stipulations of the Act means that all these terminations are outside its provisions and are therefore strictly illegal in the UK.

As a result of investigations by the Care Quality Commission, prompted by undercover reporting during 2013 by The Daily Telegraph, nearly 70 of these law-breaking doctors were referred to the General Medical Council (GMC), yet none of them was brought before a Fitness to Practise Panel to face disciplinary proceedings.  Chief Executive of the GMC, Niall Dickson, said that 67 physicians were acting ‘against the law’ but insisted that, because no patients had come to harm as a result, no sanctions were to be imposed on the offenders.  In addition, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) refused to act.  It maintained that prosecuting those who had pre-signed would not be in the ‘public interest’ and that the law did not prohibit gender-specific abortions.

Unprecedented outrage among the public and Parliament was building.  The Department of Health was under increasing pressure to respond for tolerating such disregard for the Act.  The CPS wriggled and specifically complained that, ‘there is no guidance on how a doctor should go about assessing the risk to physical or mental health, no guidance on where the threshold of risk lies and no guidance on a proper process for recording the assessment carried out.’  So, on 23 May, the Department issued Guidance in Relation to Requirements of the Abortion Act 1967, a 14-page document containing new guidelines.

The document is a mixed bag.  For example, it spells out clearly that, ‘Abortion on the grounds of gender alone is illegal’ and that the ‘DH [the Department of Health] considers pre-signing of forms … to be incompatible with the requirements of the Abortion Act.’  On the other hand, it fudges the two-doctor signature issue, as, for instance, ‘the second RMP [registered medical practitioner] might simply sign an HSA1 based on the decision of the first RMP.’  And ‘Although there is no legal requirement for at least one of the certifying doctors to have seen the pregnant woman before reaching a decision about a termination, the Department’s view is that it is good practice for this to be the case.’  But this seemingly firm stance is weakened by, ‘It is recognised however that, with technological advances, this may well mean that a doctor does not physically see the woman, e.g. there could be a discussion by phone or over a webcam.’  So it is a sort of ‘yes, but also ‘no’.

Every decent doctor knows the content and meaning of the 1967 Act.  ‘Two registered medical practitioners’ and ‘in good faith’ are demanding prerequisites to abortion approval.  As the new guidelines state, ‘The clear intention of the Act is for each doctor to consider the woman’s circumstances in forming a good faith opinion.’  The trouble is that abortion has become such an everyday procedure that its approval has become decidedly slapdash.  The application of the 1967 Act needs meticulous oversight.  Maybe issuing these new guidelines will put the wind up some careless, law-breaking doctors.  But for many abortion providers it will be business as usual.  As Ann Furedi, the CEO of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, stated, ‘This guidance endorses our practice at bpas.’

Burn baby burn!
A recent investigation, by the Channel 4 TV programme Dispatches, found that the bodies of thousands of aborted and miscarried babies have been incinerated as clinical waste, with some even used to heat hospitals.  Apparently at least 15,500 foetal remains were incinerated by 27 NHS trusts over the last two years alone.  The March 2014 programme reported that parents who lost children in early pregnancy were often treated without compassion and were not consulted about what they wanted to happen to their child’s remains.

The Department of Health issued an instant ban on the burning practice, which health minister, Dr Dan Poulter, described as ‘totally unacceptable.’  The medical director of the NHS, Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, has written to all hospital trusts in England reminding them that it is illegal to dispose of aborted foetuses by burning them as clinical waste.


IVF and Assisted Reproductive Technologies

IVF statistics for the UK 2012
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) released these data on 24 March.  The details are available at http://www.hfea.gov.uk/104.html

Basically they show that during 2012, at the 77 IVF clinics throughout the UK, 47,422 women underwent 62,155 treatment cycles of IVF or ICSI.  The outcomes were 15,538 ‘live birth events’ which amounted to 17,041 ‘take home’ babies.  The overall success rate was up slightly to 25% and the multiple birth rate was down slightly to 18.8%.  In other words, IVF still has a 75% failure rate and still has a medically dangerous high multiple pregnancy rate – about six times the natural rate.  Somewhat surprisingly the popularity of IVF seems to be slowing down as the number of women using it actually decreased during 2012.  Another recent trend was the increasing number of same-sex female couples receiving IVF treatment.  A total of 766 cycles of IVF were performed in women who registered with a female partner – a 36.5% increase on the previous year.

During 2012, preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) was carried out in conjunction with IVF in 17 UK clinics.  Its purpose is to seek out early embryos with specific genetic disorders and destroy any found to be affected.  A total of 523 PGD-IVF cycles were conducted during 2012, a 27% increase compared with the previous year – a eugenic and increasingly sinister trend.

One of Us petition rejected
This petition gathered a total of 1.8 million signatures from across Europe.  Under the European Citizens’ Initiative any such petition with more than a million signatories can be brought before the European Parliament.

The One of Us petition objected to some aspects of the European Union’s science funding programme known as Horizon 2020.  In particular, the petition wanted research which destroyed human embryos to be banned, or at least unfunded.  The case was presented on 10 April, but the European Commission rejected the plea.

The petitioners cited the 2011 landmark ruling by the European Court of Justice in the case of Brüstle v. Greenpeace, which stated that, ‘… human dignity excludes the patenting of any procedure that involves or supposes the destruction of a human embryo'.  However, the European Commission rejected this argument saying it was irrelevant because it dealt with patentability of biotechnological inventions and not whether such research should be carried out or whether it should be funded.

As a result hundreds of millions of euros will finance further human embryo destruction.  The use of adult or induced pluripotent stem cells would do a much better job, with no such bioethical dilemmas.  What a disappointment.  Nevertheless, the One of Us Citizens’ Committee said the European Commission’s decision is likely to be appealed before Luxembourg’s Court of Justice, where the law recognises respect for human life from conception.

Three-parent IVF
Affinity responded to the latest Consultation on so-called three-parent IVF which closed on 21 May.  The whole submission can be read at www.XXXXXXXXXXXX.  It opened with the following statement: ‘We responded to the previous public Consultation on Mitochondrial Donation (MD) in December 2012.  We began that submission by affirming four basic facts.  We do so again because the legitimacy of every innovative medical practice and legal authorization must be judged by the most stringent bioethical foundations.  1] Human life begins at fertilization.  2] All human life is precious and therefore deserves to be protected.  3] IVF and PGD procedures always destroy human embryos.  4] Because IVF and PGD are integral to maternal spindle transfer (MST) and pronuclear transfer (PNT), we are opposed to the legalization and use of these two novel procedures.’

While the results of the Consultation are awaited, the HFEA set up an expert panel which has reported that the creation of embryos with three genetic parents is ‘not unsafe’.  And in a charade of restraint the HFEA has asked for more safety and efficiency testing of the techniques involved.  Yet this is all part of the HFEA’s itch to change the law, move the experimental procedure to clinical trials and ensure that the UK is at the global frontier of mitochondrial donation research.  It is proof, yet again, that governments tend to ban bioethically-dubious procedures only while they are experimentally impossible.  Once they become achievable, the law is changed.  In this case, it is the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 that will need amending.


Stem-cell Technologies

Stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency (STAP) cells – a retraction
The controversy surrounding the apparent ease with which these stem cells were created – just dipping them in weak acid or subjecting them to pressure – has rumbled on since the two papers by Haruko Obokata and her colleagues were published in Nature on 30 January 2014.  These findings startled the scientific community and it was not long before the work was discredited amid accusations of duplicated and manipulated images and instances of plagiarism.

By April, Obokata had agreed to retract one of the papers because of errors caused, she insisted, by her inexperience, not by her fraud.  She continued to maintain that STAP cells really do exist.  However, Nature News (3 June) reported that Teruhiko Wakayama of Yamanashi University, one of her co-authors, had tested 20 stem-cell lines created with the STAP method.  He found that that none of them matched the mouse strains from which they were originally taken.  This suggested that Obakata’s STAP cell lines had been contaminated and that this new type of pluripotent cell may never have existed.

The seemingly-inevitable occurred on the 3 July, when Nature published a retraction of both of Obokata’s papers.  What does this shambles say about the process of scientific publication?  It is a serious indictment of the peer-review system when a 30-year-old scientist can pass the scrutiny of reviewers in the world’s foremost scientific journal Nature with such a fabrication.  Stem-cell technologies are among the most exciting advances in current biological research, it is disheartening to learn of yet another example of their hype and hoax.

Eye cells in a dish
Forget the STAP hullabaloo and consider the following.  Perhaps nothing epitomises the wonders of stem-cell technologies as this sort of experimental protocol.  First, take some ordinary human skin cells – we’ve all got lots of those – next, add some transcription factors so the cells become induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells and then, activate certain genes so the cells redirect themselves and voilà, in this case, you have human retina cells.  Eye cells in a dish – remarkable!  What is more, these tiny retinal cells will grow and develop spontaneously into functioning photoreceptor cells.

This work was reported online in Nature Communications (10 June) under the title of Generation of Three-dimensional Retinal Tissue with Functional Photoreceptors from Human iPSCs.  Valeria Canto-Soler, the lead author at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said, ‘We knew that a 3-D cellular structure was necessary if we wanted to reproduce functional characteristics of the retina, but when we began this work, we didn't think stem cells would be able to build up a retina almost on their own.  In our system, somehow the cells knew what to do.’  She added that this type of experiment, ‘may ultimately lead to technologies that restore vision in people with retinal diseases.’  Of course, there is a long way to go before the blind are made to see, but this non-embryonic approach is undoubtedly on the right road to creating custom-tailored organs, in the lab, in a bioethically-acceptable way.

Human cloning advance?
Though Dolly the sheep was created by somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) in 1996, the cloning technique has always proved problematic with human DNA – all past attempts had resulted in either failure or fraud.

Then in 2013, Shoukhrat Mitalipov and his team at the Oregon Health & Science University, who had previously succeeded with mice and monkeys, finally achieved it with humans.  The article entitled, Human Embryonic Stem Cells Derived by Somatic Cell nuclear Transfer was published in the journal Cell (6 June 2013).  However, the results were criticised because they were obtained using foetal and infant DNA, a protocol which is not suitable for studying diseases like diabetes and Alzheimer’s that typically occur in older patients.

Then on April 17 2014, researchers, led by Dong Ryul Lee of the Institute for Stem Cell Research in Los Angeles and Robert Lanza of the Massachusetts-based Advanced Cell Technology (ACT), published in Cell Stem Cell details of their own SCNT methodology.  In the article, Human Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer Using Adult Cells, they demonstrated the production of embryonic stem cells using skin cells derived from two adult cell donors, a 75-year-old man and a 35-year-old man.

They used skin from each man, extracted the DNA from the skin cells, inserted it into the ova of female donors and finally tweaked them to develop into blastocysts.  Embryonic stem cells were then harvested by destroying these embryos – the resulting cells closely matched the men and could, in theory, be used therapeutically to make them tissues, blood or organ transplants.

More recently, other researchers have reported the production of human embryonic stem cells from adult cells.  On 28 April in Nature, Dieter Egli of the New York Stem Cell Foundation Research Institute and Mark V Sauer of Columbia University Medical Center described how they created the first disease-specific diploid-state human embryonic stem cell line from an adult donor with type-1 diabetes and a healthy control.  Their article was entitled, Human oocytes reprogram adult somatic nuclei of a type 1 diabetic to diploid pluripotent stem cells.

These Lanza-Lee and Egli-Sauer techniques will probably revive interest in using SCNT as an alternative to the relatively simple and bioethically-neutral method used to generate induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells.  In addition, they are likely to reopen the debate over the ethics of human cloning, both therapeutic and reproductive.  This is dangerous stuff.


Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide

The UK Supreme Court pronounces
On 25 June, campaigners for the right to die lost their appeals at the UK Supreme Court.  The entire 131-page judgment can be read at http://www.supremecourt.uk/decided-cases/docs/UKSC_2013_0235_Judgment.pdf

The judges ruled against Paul Lamb and the family of Tony Nicklinson by seven to two.  In other words, the Suicide Act 1961 remains intact and doctors are still not allowed to assist in suicide.

The two dissenting justices – Lady Hale and Lord Kerr – maintained that the 1961 Suicide Act’s prohibition on assisted suicide was incompatible with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, namely, the right to respect for private and family life.  Five judges concluded the Court had the ‘constitutional authority’ to make such a declaration, and two of the five said they would have done so.

In addition, all nine judges ruled against the appeal of a third man, Martin.  He lost his attempt to have the current guidance issued by the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) on assisted suicide clarified, thus health professionals are still not allowed to assist him to travel to Dignitas to end his life there.

A majority of the justices said that the questions they were being asked involved moral judgements rather than points of law and the matter should therefore be addressed by a democratically-elected Parliament, not the courts.  Lord Neuberger, president of the Court, warned that if Parliament failed to consider the issue in the near future, there was a ‘real prospect’ of a successful future legal challenge.

Those who like to give their brains a workout might like to read the most astute judgment of Lord Sumption – regarded by some as ‘the Brains of Britain’ or ‘a man with a brain the size of a planet’ – on pages 73 to 99.  After rehearsing the present state of the law on euthanasia and assisted suicide he closed with his paragraph 256, ‘This state of English law and criminal practice does not of course resolve all of the problems arising from the pain and indignity of the death which was endured by Tony Nicklinson and is now faced by Mr Lamb and Martin.  But it is worth reiterating these well-established propositions, because it is clear that many medical professionals are frightened by the law and take an unduly narrow view of what can lawfully be done to relieve the suffering of the terminally ill under the law as it presently stands.  Much needless suffering may be occurring as a result.  It is right to add that there is a tendency for those who would like to see the existing law changed, to overstate its difficulties.  This was particularly evident in the submissions of Dignity and Choice in Dying.  It would be unfortunate if this were to narrow yet further the options open to those approaching death, by leading them to believe that the current law and practice is less humane and flexible than it really is.’  In other words, Lord Sumption says, leave the Suicide Act 1961 as it is.  It is ‘a law with a stern face but an understanding heart.’

All in all, the Supreme Court’s pronouncements are good news for the many vulnerable people who would have been at risk if these attempts to weaken the law on euthanasia and assisted suicide had been allowed.

Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill
Legalising assisted suicide has become a dread threat.  Lord Falconer’s much-vaunted
Assisted Dying Bill is expected to arrive for its second Reading in the House of Lords on Friday 18 July.  For many months its proponents have been flexing their lobbying muscles and honing their emotional appeals.  These advocates have included newspapers like The Times, singers like Cilla Black, TV presenters like Richard Madeley and Judy Finnegan, politicians like Joel Joffe, actors like Patrick Stewart, authors like Terry Pratchett, doctors like Raymond Tallis and comedians like Ricky Gervais, plus various vicars, assorted atheists and a host of other media-friendly individuals.

The outcome of the Bill is unpredictable.  Will it be seriously debated in the Lords?  Will it reach the Commons?  If it does, David Cameron has stated his position. He has warned that people could feel ‘unfairly pressurised’ into ending their lives if the law against assisted suicide is relaxed.  He has indicated that he would oppose a move to legalise allowing terminally-ill adults with less than six months to live to choose to be helped to kill themselves.  The Prime Minister’s comments came after the Liberal Democrat Care Minister, Norman Lamb, spoke out in favour of Lord Falconer’s Bill, which he claimed had ‘quite widespread public support.’

Margo McDonald’s Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill
Meanwhile, up in Scotland, Margo McDonald has long been preparing for her second attempt to introduce a Bill permitting assisted suicide – her first attempt in 2010, with her End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill, was roundly rejected by the Scottish Parliament by 85 to 16 votes.

For many years, the 70-year-old had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease and on 4 April 2014 she died.  Her bill has now been taken on by Green MSP Patrick Harvie.

At her death, her husband Jim Sillars, a former SNP deputy leader, said, ‘Today the brightest light in the Scottish political firmament has gone out.’  And ‘My wife Margo MacDonald died peacefully at home surrounded by her family today at 1.10pm.’  One thing seems clear – Margo MacDonald did not need to avail herself of the assisted suicide for which she had campaigned so vigorously.

Euthanasia elsewhere – Washington State, Belgium and Québec
There is never good news with regard to euthanasia practice.  In Washington State for example, the latest government figures show that during 2013, a total of 173 people asked for, and received, drugs sufficient to induce death.  This represents a 43% increase from 2012. Though 159 of these patients died, it is estimated that 119 died as a direct result of taking these lethal doses.

The 2009 Washington State law allows terminally-ill patients, who are expected to die six months or sooner after a diagnosis, to be prescribed drugs to end their lives.  Two witnesses, including a non-relative, must be present when the drugs are used.  The reality is that a doctor does not have to be present at the attempted suicide, and therefore nothing prevents a family member from taking individual action that may or may not be voluntary on the part of the patient.  The whole scheme is open to abuse.  And there is good evidence that many end their lives not because of actual pain but because of the fear of pain.

Meanwhile, Belgium has gone almost the whole hog by allowing children of all ages to be euthanized.  On 2 March, the king of Belgium signed into law a controversial Bill making the nation the first country in the world to allow euthanasia for terminally-ill children.  The Bill became law despite widespread opposition, including a 200,000-strong Europe-wide petition, which was delivered to King Philippe urging him not to sign.

It was in 2002 that Belgium became only the second country in the world to sanction adult euthanasia.  Some ten years later, in December 2013, this child euthanasia Bill was approved by the Belgium Senate and by the House of Representatives on 13 February 2014 by a massive majority of 86 votes to 44 with 12 abstentions.  Belgium has gone euthanasia mad.  The very idea of euthanasia for children is considered morally repugnant in most European countries.  For many it evokes memories of the Nazi child euthanasia programme, which eventually led to the Holocaust.

Now Québec has attempted to join the euthanasia gang.  On 5 June, Bill 52, known also as An Act Respecting End-of-Life Care, was passed by the National Assembly with an overwhelming majority of 94 votes to 22 with no abstentions.  Québec thus joins the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg as the fourth jurisdiction in the world to legalise full-blown euthanasia, as opposed to assisted suicide.

However, the deal is not yet done – a legal battle has broken out.  Under the Canadian constitution, the criminal code is a Federal responsibility and it bans euthanasia.  In fact the Ottawa Parliament rejected similar legislation in 2010.  To circumvent this hurdle, Québec’s rebel legislators have lexically engineered ‘euthanasia’ to become ‘medical aid in dying’ and they describe it as a health issue, not a criminal issue.  Already a group opposing the new law has launched an appeal to Canada’s Supreme Court.


USA and Elsewhere

Hobby Lobby and ObamaCare
There has been a continuing trickle of exemptions from the ObamaCare (Affordable Care Act) insistence that employers must pay for abortifacient ‘contraceptives’, such as the morning-after pill, for their employees.  For example, in May, a federal court halted enforcement of the mandate for two Christian universities, Cornerstone College in Michigan and Dordt College in Iowa.  Their lawsuit stated that, ‘The Schools hold, as a matter of religious conviction, that it would be sinful and immoral for them intentionally to participate in, pay for, facilitate, enable, or otherwise support access to abortion, which destroys human life.’

Then on 1 July, the US Supreme Court pronounced on the two leading lawsuits, which involved the craft store Hobby Lobby and its associated bookstore Mardel, plus the wood company Conestoga, both owned by evangelical Christian families.  It decided 5 to 4 in their favour.  It was a huge win for religious liberty in the US. Sadly, it also exposed a deeply-divided Supreme Court.  The Obama administration could have handled these matters so much better.  Its heavy-handed and unconstitutional approach has sought to trample over the affections and consciences of Christians.

But this long-awaited and positive verdict is not the end.  There are dozens of similar lawsuits in the pipeline ranging from religious non-profit ministries, evangelical colleges and universities to the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Roman Catholic charity.  The good news is that this landmark Hobby Lobby decision makes the victory of these groups much more likely.

Abortion in Florida
The Sunshine State is about to tighten up its law that currently allows abortion up to 24-weeks – the same as in the UK.  From July, Floridian doctors will be required to evaluate foetal survival – if the baby is deemed able to live outside the womb, then abortion is prohibited.  Speaking on behalf of Governor Rick Scott, an aide confirmed that Scott is, ‘pro-life and was glad to sign this bill that protects the lives of children.’

Abortion in North Dakota
Any restriction on access to abortion is always going to be hotly contested in the USA, and anywhere else.  North Dakota is just one example.  In 2013, abortions were banned after a foetal heartbeat could be detected, that is, as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.  Last July, the state's only abortion clinic, the Red River Clinic in Fargo, filed a lawsuit against the heartbeat law.  In April this year, District Judge Daniel Hovland declared that the new law was ‘invalid and unconstitutional’.  The legal battle continues.

Abortion in Oklahoma
During April, a bill was approved by the state House of Representatives that would require the Board of Health to establish health and safety standards for abortion clinics – such stipulations have recently become quite common and have resulted in the closure of many abortion facilities across the nation.  The original bill was then amended to limit human embryo research.  It would ban any person from knowingly conducting ‘non-therapeutic research that destroys a human embryo or subjects a human embryo to substantial risk of injury or death.’  The ensuing debate was described as ‘passionate’.  Eventually the amended bill passed the House by 75 votes to 15 and will now return to the Senate for approval.

Abortion in Louisiana
Also during April, the Louisiana House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed – 82 to 9 with 14 abstentions – a bill that would require abortion facilities to hand out pamphlets about the mental health risks of abortion.  The leaflets must be given at least 24 hours before an abortion takes place.  And they must include information, phone numbers, and links to Internet websites of non-profit organisations, that have free and confidential information about the harm caused to women before and after having an abortion.  This bill has now gone to the state Senate.

A different pro-life tactic
How do you get rid of your local abortion clinic?  You buy it!  Earlier this year, Susan Cahill, the owner of the All Families Healthcare abortion centre was told that she had 90 days to move her business off the premises.  Why?  Because the new owners of the building were Michelle Reimer, executive director of the pro-life pregnancy organisation, Hope Pregnancy Ministries, and her husband.

This tactic is not new.  Back in 2000, in Dayton, Ohio, Elizabeth's New Life Center purchased property where an abortion clinic was operating.  After the clinic was forced to leave the building, the Center asked the city to change the building’s purpose from ‘business’ to ‘residential’.  Once the city had done this, the Center sold the building as a home.  Perhaps most famously, in 2006, the pro-life organisation, Operation Rescue, purchased the building that housed Wichita Family Planning in Wichita, Kansas.  Operation Rescue turned that location into its national headquarters, which also includes a memorial to the pre-born.

Abortion in Spain
Perhaps it really was too good to be true.  In December 2013, the Spanish government approved a radical bill that would repeal its current liberal law, which allows abortion-on-demand up to 14 weeks.  Now the government has reportedly watered down that reform after it sparked a fierce backlash from pro-choice groups.  The bill will now allow women to terminate pregnancies if the unborn child has some form of disability. The reform is expected to be debated later this year.  This sort of policy swing demonstrates the tension and conflict that exists between the pro-life and pro-choice camps in Spain and in other countries.  But it also shows how resolute pro-life advocates can be – they have mettle in their backbones and fire in their bellies.

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