Thursday 31 March 2011

Pro-choice critics of the Dorries/Field amendments on abortion counselling are misrepresenting the medical facts

There has been considerable media interest in the fact that two MPs (Nadine Dorries and Frank Field) have tabled abortion amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill (See Sunday Express, Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph).

These two MPs are attempting to ensure two things.

First they want women with unplanned pregnancies to have access to information and counselling that is not provided by the abortion industry. At present most women contemplating abortion go directly via abortion providers like Marie Stopes International (MSI) and BPAS. The MPs argue that these groups have a financial vested interest in providing abortion for which they receive over 60 million pounds of taxpayers’ money annually. This does not give women a fair deal.

Second they want the responsibility for producing abortion guidelines to be taken away from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) and given to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE). They claim that the RCOG guidelines misrepresent the scientific evidence on the health consequences of abortion and that some RCOG members have financial and ideological vested interests in abortion provision.

Not surprisingly this move has generated a strong reaction from abortion providers and pro-choice commentators.

BPAS Ann Furedi, chief executive of BPAS, has said:

‘This amendment is a misguided attempt to solve a problem that does not exist. If abortion providers have a vested interest, it is to be as sure as possible that women are making the choice that is right for them. The RCOG is clearly the body best suited to produce guidance on what information is appropriate. We find it bizarre that anyone should think that this expert, clinical role should be removed from them.’

Ann Furedi (pictured) does not give any reasons to support her claim that the RCOG is the best body to provide guidance and fails to mention that this body’s abortion guidance has been widely criticised for misrepresenting research data.

This is precisely the problem that Dorries and Field are attempting to address. She also does not tell us that 11 of the 18 people on the RCOG panel producing the guidance benefit financially from abortion provision nor that both BPAS and MSI are represented on the panel. Nor does she mention that there are no psychiatrists on the panel despite the fact that it purports to speak authoritatively on the link between abortion and mental health.

The RCOG, which published the latest draft of its guidance in January without a proper consultation period, has now withdrawn it in order to await a report from the Royal College of Psychiatrists. I have previously already written to David Cameron with my concerns about the lack of transparency, bias and undue haste surrounding their consultation.

The comments of Telegraph 'Strategic Events Editor' Tom Chivers (pictured) are also a revealing example of the way that scientific evidence is cherry-picked by pro-choice commentators in order to justify their view that abortion has few if any consequences for women’s health.

In a blog titled ‘Abortion and the 'Right to Know' – or, why we should link to our sources’ Chivers criticizes Dorries and Field for not quoting primary sources to support their claim that women having abortions are 30% more likely to experience mental health problems.

He correctly identifies the primary source (after help via friends on Twitter) as an article by Fergusson et al originally published in the British Journal of Psychiatry in 2008 but then goes on, ironically, to make misleading statements about the scientific evidence.

Chivers claims that the Fergusson study is ‘now rather out of date’ and that ‘The BJPsych itself has revisited the topic, with a 2009 systematic review’. Both these statements are simply untrue.

If you follow the link in Chivers’ blog you will see that it does not refer to a BJPsych review at all, but rather to a letter written to the journal by two non-psychiatrists with close links to the pro-choice movement, Sam Rowlands and Kate Guthrie.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists has itself acknowledged in a 2008 statement that there are in fact studies which show a link between abortion and mental health problems and is currently carrying out a review of the literature that has not yet been published.

The review that Rowlands and Guthrie refer to is not from the editors of the BJPsych at all (or the Royal College) but is actually one by the American Psychological Association which has been widely criticised as I have previously outlined on this blog.

Why is all this so important? For two reasons.

First most abortions in Britain (about 98%) are carried out on mental health grounds when in fact there is no clear evidence in the literature to show that being denied abortion has mental health consequences. The jury is still out on this question as the RCPsych acknowledges. This makes the vast majority of abortions in Britain technically illegal.

Second, there is growing evidence that abortion actually poses a risk to mental health. The significance of Fergusson’s research is that it was a particularly robust 30 year longitudinal study which had carefully corrected for confounding variables. What makes it doubly interesting is that Fergusson himself comes from a pro-choice perspective so arguably had a vested interest in his research not showing any link between abortion and mental health problems.

Fergusson and his co-authors are simply asking that people be honest about the scientific facts. I will leave the final comments to them.

‘It is our collective view that the most important implications of our findings relate to the current legal justification for abortion in the UK, New Zealand and a number of other jurisdictions in which abortion is authorised principally on medical grounds. In all of these jurisdictions, the great majority of abortions are authorised on mental health grounds. Our findings strongly challenge the use of mental health criteria as a routine justification for abortion. Our results suggest that the mental health risks of having an abortion may be greater and are certainly no less than the risks of coming to term with an unwanted pregnancy. Further, as far as we can tell, there is no evidence that suggests that the mental health risks of abortion are less than those of continuing with an unwanted pregnancy. To establish this would require a series of replicated studies showing that the mental health outcomes of those having an abortion are better than those of an equivalent series of women coming to term with an unwanted pregnancy. No such evidence exists…What emerges most clearly from the accumulated body of evidence on abortion and mental health is: (a) the primary reasons that most women seek abortion are personal, social and economic rather than relating to mental health concerns; and (b) there is no body of evidence that would lead a reasonable person to conclude that the provision of abortion mitigates the mental health risks of abortion.’

Saturday 19 March 2011

Memorial services for victims of the Christchurch earthquake and a prayer for New Zealand

On 2 March I was privileged to be one of about 5,000 Kiwis in London who attended the memorial service in Westminster Cathedral, London, for victims of the 22 February Christchurch earthquake. It was amazing to be part of this gathering. The church was full half an hour before the service so I joined over 1,000 people outside.

We sang ‘How great thou art’ led by a Maori concert group and listened to messages from John Key, NZ prime minister, and Richie McCaw, All Black captain, before Hayley Westenra sang the first verse of the national anthem in Maori and English (see video).

E Ihowā Atua,
O ngā iwi mātou rā
Āta whakarangona;
Me aroha noa
Kia hua ko te pai;
Kia tau tō atawhai;
Manaakitia mai

God of nations! at Thy feet
In the bonds of love we meet,
Hear our voices, we entreat,
God defend our Free Land.
Guard Pacific's triple star,
From the shafts of strife and war,
Make her praises heard afar,
God defend New Zealand

It now seems that the final death toll of the disaster will be 182, making it New Zealand’s fourth greatest disaster after the Erebus crash (257), the Napier Earthquake (256) and the wreck of the Orpheus (189).

I was born in Christchurch, and still have friends, medical colleagues and second cousins living there – although thankfully all managed to escape injury.

This week, a service in Hagley Park, Christchurch, at which Prince William spoke was attended by tens of thousands and I have just learnt that there will be a further service at Westminster Abbey on Sunday 27 March.

On the same day, the Canterbury Crusaders (my home team!) will play the Natal Sharks at Twickenham, and, God willing, our family will be there. Over 60,000 (mainly Kiwis and South Africans) are expected at the match and £5 from each ticket is going to the Red Cross for earthquake relief. There will be a further act of remembrance preceding the game.

The Crusaders ground, the AMI stadium in Christchurch, has been so badly damaged that it is not able to host any of their home matches this tournament and will not even be available for the rugby world cup later this year.

The home of English rugby has therefore thankfully been made available for this clash of the titans between the Crusaders (seven times winners of the competition) and the Sharks, this year’s leaders (until last night!)

This will be the first ever super rugby series match to be played outside Australia, New Zealand or South Africa.

As we seek by God’s grace to make sense of this tragedy I am drawn back to the words of our own national anthem – which is itself a prayer.

Thomas Bracken wrote the words in the early 1870s, and offered a prize of 10 guineas for the best musical setting. This was won by Otago schoolteacher John Joseph Woods and the first ever performance was in 1876.

In 1940, on the recommendation of the NZ Centennial Council, the Government declared God Defend New Zealand to be the National Hymn, and bought the copyright. In 1977, with the Queen's consent, God Defend New Zealand was given equal status with God Save the Queen, as is now played preferentially.

Most New Zealanders know the first verse by heart and many can also sing it in Maori. But not many know the other verses.

There is a lovely version with all five verses, sung by Cindy Ruakere, available in both word and picture versions on you tube which has been posted to honour the earthquake victims along with another brief video to the words of ‘My City in Ruins’ which captures something of the Kiwi resilience in the wake of tragedy.

I have pasted the full version of the anthem here – because I think it beautifully expresses the prayers of New Zealand Christians for our country. New Zealand is a nation, greatly privileged, and with a glorious past, but we have sadly in many ways turned our back on the God who has blessed us so much.

In many ways we still benefit from God’s blessings. New Zealand is a country of extraordinary natural beauty which enjoys a high standard of living. It was recognized as the least corrupt nation on earth in 2009. and shared the honours with Denmark and Singapore in 2010.

But in many other ways we have fallen and need a fresh touch of God’s Spirit.

My prayer is that in the wake of this disaster God will move in such a way that our nation really does become a light to the nations and is truly worthy of its own anthem.

I hope you will enjoy reading and reflecting on these words, and can make them your own prayer for New Zealand.

God of nations! at Thy feet
In the bonds of love we meet,
Hear our voices, we entreat,
God defend our Free Land.
Guard Pacific's triple star,
From the shafts of strife and war,
Make her praises heard afar,
God defend New Zealand

Men of ev'ry creed and race
Gather here before Thy face,
Asking Thee to bless this place,
God defend our Free Land.
From dissension, envy, hate,
And corruption guard our State,
Make our country good and great,
God defend New Zealand.

Peace, not war, shall be our boast,
But, should foes assail our coast,
Make us then a mighty host,
God defend our Free Land.
Lord of battles in thy might,
Put our enemies to flight,
Let our cause be just and right,
God defend New Zealand.

Let our love for Thee increase,
May Thy blessings never cease,
Give us plenty, give us peace,
God defend our Free Land.
From dishonour and from shame
Guard our country's spotless name
Crown her with immortal fame,
God defend New Zealand.

May our mountains ever be
Freedom's ramparts on the sea,
Make us faithful unto Thee,
God defend our Free Land.
Guide her in the nations' van,
Preaching love and truth to man,
Working out Thy Glorious plan,
God defend New Zealand.

The severe gender imbalance in China has been part-financed by the British government

Sex-selective abortions have led to severe gender imbalance in China, India and South Korea according to a new report published this week. Furthermore, as I argue below, the British government has contributed to this problem through its financial and ideological support for abortion abroad.

In the next 20 years in large parts of China and India, there will be a 10% to 20% excess of young men because of sex selection and this imbalance will have societal repercussions, states an analysis in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).

A preference for sons in China, India and South Korea combined with easy access to sex-selective abortions has led to a significant imbalance between the number of males and females born in these countries.

The sex ratio at birth (SRB) - the number of boys born to every 100 girls - is consistent in human populations in which about 105 males are born to every 100 females. However, with the advent of ultrasounds that enable sex-selection, the sex ratio at birth in some cities in South Korea climbed to 125 by 1992 and is over 130 in several Chinese provinces from Henan in the north to Hainan in the south.

In 2005 in China, ‘it was estimated that 1.1 million excess males were born across the country and that the number of males under the age of 20 years exceeded the number of females by around 32 million,’ writes Professor Therese Hesketh, UCL Centre for International Health and Development, London, United Kingdom with co-authors.

In India, similar disparities exist, with sex ratios as high as 125 in Punjab, Delhi and Gujarat in the north but normal sex ratios of 105 in the southern and eastern states of Kerala and Andhra Pradesh.

The societal implications mean that a significant percentage of the male population will not be able to marry or have children because of a scarcity of women. In China, 94% of unmarried people aged 28 to 49 are male, 97% of whom have not completed high school, and there are worries the inability to marry will result in psychological issues and possibly increased violence and crime.

Policy makers in China, India and South Korea have taken some steps to address the issue, such as instituting laws forbidding fetal sex determination and selective abortion, but these incipient declines will not filter through to the reproductive age group for another two decades, conclude the authors.

What you will not learn from the report is the extent to which the British government, by financing the very abortion providers who have created this population imbalance, has contributed to this sorry state of affairs.

In response to a parliamentary question from Baroness Masham in January 2003 it was confirmed that the British Government, through its Department for International Development, gave £150 million to support international abortion providers over the period 1997-2002.

This included £20m for MSI (Marie Stopes International), £27m for IPPF (international Planned Parenthood Federation) and £103m for UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund).

Between 1990-1994, the UNFPA donated $57 million to fund China's ‘family planning’ / population control program which includes China's one-child policy. This policy uses compulsory abortion and sterilisation, forced if necessary. (‘Whose Choice:Population Controllers or Yours?’, R. Whelan, The Committee on Population and the Economy 1992) (Testimony, Congressional Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights Hearing, Giao Xiao Duan 10 June 1999)

UNFPA also funds International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), one of the leading global abortion promoters in the world. MSI is another.

The government made clear in its reply at the time that ‘DfID's funding policy to any non-profit making organisation or network, including Marie Stopes International, is based on its ability to effectively contribute to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals; and to DfID's overall objective, the eradication of poverty’.

So here we have again the myth propagated by the DFID that maternal mortality is effectively lowered by the provision of ‘safe’ abortion, a false presupposition which raised its head again in its recent Consultation on Maternal Health Strategy: 'Choice for women: wanted pregnancies, safe births'.

As I have pointed out in two previous blogs (one on the DFID consultation itself and one on Chile’s programme) maternal deaths worldwide have in fact fallen from 500,000 to 343,000 between 1990 and 2008. This has nothing to do with abortion.

Our CMF submission to the DFID points out that the real solution to reducing maternal mortality is multi-level: addressing social attitudes, education and empowerment of women, good quality obstetric/midwifery care and better birth spacing.

Furthermore this is best achieved through positive engagement with religious leaders, communities and faith based organisations (FBOs). This is what the British government needs to put more energy into doing.

Sadly, however, the severe gender imbalance in China has been in part financed by the British government using British taxpayers’ money and based on a false understanding of the real causes of maternal mortality.

Sunday 13 March 2011

New study shows that UK doctors consistently oppose euthanasia and assisted suicide and Washington report raises further concerns about abuse

A new study suggests that doctors in the UK have opposed both euthanasia and assisted consistently over the past two decades. Researchers from Limerick, Ireland, used 16 key studies into doctors' attitudes between 1990 and 2010.

The findings, which appear in the latest issue of the journal Palliative Medicine, highlight a gap between doctors' attitudes and those of the UK public.

This research further confirms the fact that those doctors who favour a change in the law, constitute a small vocal minority.

Sir Richard Thompson, currently President of the Royal College of Physicians, responding to the launch of the small pressure group Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying last autumn, eloquently outlined the reasons why a clear majority of the College’s members still do not support a change in the law.

The Royal College of Physicians is in good company. Other official doctors’ bodies opposing any change in the law to allow assisted suicide or euthanasia are the British Medical Association (BMA), the Association for Palliative Medicine (APM), the British Geriatric Society (BGS), the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) and every other Royal Medical College that has expressed an opinion on the matter.

The British Geriatric Society last year issued a strong statement on assisted suicide which outlined its concerns about how a change to the law would remove protection from vulnerable elderly people. The full statement is most worthy of study by all who take an interest in this debate.

In the light of doctors’ views it is perhaps not surprising that euthanasia bills have been defeated in six countries (US, Canada, Scotland, Israel, France and Australia) in the last twelve months.

Proponents of euthanasia often point to the US states of Oregon and Washington (where assisted suicide is legal) as evidence of a trend towards legalization. But the facts tell a different story.

When Oregon became the first state to legalize physician-assisted suicide in 1994, assisted-suicide advocates predicted that there would be a rapid ‘domino effect,’ and other states would soon follow Oregon’s lead. But they were wrong. It took fourteen years before another state legalized the practice, and, even then, only after advocates spent a whole year preparing the campaign and raising millions of dollars to insure the victory they so desperately wanted. That state was Washington, the state consultants said was demographically most like Oregon and, therefore, most likely to favor assisted suicide.

But, since Oregon legalized assisted suicide in 1994, other states have rejected assisted-suicide measures, many multiple times. Between January 1994 and March 2011, there were 121 legislative proposals in 25 states. All bills that are not currently pending were either defeated, tabled for the session, withdrawn by sponsors, or languished with no action taken.

A listing, by state, of all the ballot initiatives (since 1991) and all the legislative measures (since 1994) to legalize euthanasia and/or doctor-prescribed suicide in the US is available on line.

In 2010, 87 people in Washington received lethal drugs to end their lives with the help of 68 doctors and 40 pharmacists, the state Department of Health reported on Thursday.

Of the people who got drugs under Washington's Death with Dignity Act, 51 are known to have died from taking them. Most had terminal cancer and lived west of the Cascades. They were between 52 and 99 years old.

Attorney Margaret Dore argues convincingly this week that the report does not address whether the people who died under the act did so on a voluntary basis and concludes that the information provided is inherently unreliable.

No wonder that so few other states have followed suit.

Britain would be wise to listen to its own doctors and to learn from this international precedent when the discredited Falconer Commission publishes its report later this year arguing for decriminalization.

Friday 11 March 2011

More hype about three-parent embryos – don’t hold your breath about the promises of new therapies

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has asked the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority to assess a controversial fertility treatment.

The ‘three-parent IVF’ technique developed at Newcastle University (on which I commented last April) involves creating a fertilized egg in a laboratory, then removing its nucleus and placing it into another embryo from which the nucleus has been removed (see picture above).

The resulting embryo has nuclear DNA from a man and a woman and cytoplasmic DNA from a second woman - so effectively three genetic parents, although the contribution from the second woman is very small.

Researchers claim the technique could help prevent mothers passing on a rare inherited condition called mitochondrial disease to their children. Mitochondrial disease is unusual in that it is transmitted through DNA in the mitochondria (cell 'batteries') in the cell cytoplasm rather than through DNA in the cell nucleus.

Although they admit that they are far from ready to use the technique on patients, they feel that because the science is progressing ‘very rapidly’, the review of the process, which would inform political debate, needs to start now.

Getting the regulatory changes necessary to allow using the technique in patients now no longer involves parliament but only approval from the Health minister. The HFEA panel is set to submit its report to the government next month.

There are about 50 different known mitochondrial diseases which are passed on in genes coded by mitochondrial (as opposed to nuclear) DNA. They range hugely both in severity and clinical features. For most there is presently no cure and little other than supportive treatment.

We need to be clear in the first instance that this new ‘treatment’, even it were eventually to be shown to work (and there is considerable doubt about that), will do nothing for the thousands of people already suffering from mitochondrial disease or for those who will be born with it in the future.

It is primarily about trying to prevent people with MCD being born - or at least helping a very small number of mothers who carry the gene to have children who are unaffected.

And we need to remind ourselves that there are already some solutions available for those couples who find themselves in the tragic position of carrying genes for mitochondrial disease – including adoption and egg donation (although I have serious ethical reservations about the latter)

But I have three big questions about this new technique:

1.Will it work? I am very skeptical!
2.Is it ethical? No, there are huge ethical issues!
3.Is the debate being handled responsibly? No, there are huge vested interests involved!

I have a great sense of déjà vu here. There is always in this country huge media hype about supposed breakthroughs in biotechnology and the IVF industry – especially the Newcastle group - is very skilled in arousing media interest.

But we have been here before with human reproductive cloning (the Korean debacle), so-called therapeutic cloning for embryonic stem cell research (which has thus far failed to deliver) and animal hybrids (now a farcical footnote in history)

We saw the false dawn most clearly with animal human hybrids where the biotechnology industry, scientists, patient interest groups and science journalists on the UK nationals duped both the public and parliament into legalising and licensing animal human hybrid research to produce stem cells.

But even before the ink was dry on the 2008 HFE Act researchers and investors were recognising that the technology who almost certainly not deliver – that there where more effective ethical alternatives available (such as induced pluripotent stem cells or IPs)

The Newcastle unit is a world leader in promising much and delivering little – but given the short attention span of the media and the gullibility of the public few people seem to realise, remember or care.

The UK broadsheets this morning largely transcribe uncritically the spin of the Newcastle unit’s press release – whilst giving scant attention to the questions of safety, efficacy and ethics being raised by commentators in scientific journals and blogs. Some questions that you will not hear asked or answered:

1. What will be the effect on the embryos of the small amount of abnormal cytoplasm containing defective mitochondria that is still being transferred?
2. Will any of these embryos survive beyond blastocyst stage? (cloned human embryos and animal-human hybrids produced by similar ‘nuclear replacement’ technology haven’t)
3. If they do survive will the nucleus from one embryo function properly with the cytoplasm of another?
4. Will the progeny be normal or be suffering from defects that are in fact worse than mitochondrial disease itself? (we know that cloning by nuclear replacement is possible in frogs, difficult in mammals, hugely problematic in non-human primates and currently not possible in humans)
5. What about the hundreds of embryos that have already been destroyed in the research?
6. What will be the psychological effect on any progeny of the fact that their DNA is derived from three separate ‘parents’?
7. What will be the effect of the introduced transmissible DNA on future generations?

We also need to realise that the Newcastle scientists have a huge financial and research-based vested interests that make it very difficult for them to be balanced and objective in the way they present their findings.

Getting the regulatory changes and research grants to continue and extend their work is dependent on them being able to sell their case to funders, the public and decision-makers. And they know that that is best achieved through attention-grabbing media headlines and press releases and heart grabbing (but highly extreme and unusual) human interest stories that are selective about the truth.

What is currently happening in Newcastle may be legal in Britain – but it is illegal in almost every other Western country for good public safety and ethical reasons. Britain is regarded by many as a rogue state in all this.

So I’m not letting myself be carried away by the hype and spin. And I’m not holding my breath about the promises of therapies.

Thursday 10 March 2011

Was Anne Milton's denunciation of abstinence-based sex education a 'misreport' or a Clintonesque 'misspeak'?

I was amazed to see the volume of journalists’ ink spilt last week on the case of the student basketball star in Utah who was suspended from school for having pre-marital sex with his girlfriend (BBC News, Daily Mail)

Apparently his team has, as a result, slipped down the college rankings.

Some days ago there were 1,335 articles listed on google from all over the work that were listing the story.

Why such interest? I guess it is because pre-marital sex is so common nowadays that the media are surprised that an educational institution should take holding on to one’s virginity at all seriously.

And yet in the same week another story from across the pond ran with the headline ‘No sex please, we're American: More than a quarter of young men and women in the US say they're still virgins’.

Apparently promiscuity rates are falling in the US as a result of abstinence-based sex education.

Rather odd then that Health Minister Anne Milton (pictured) should be reported this week in a tweet from @BrookCharity (where she was speaking at a conference) as being opposed to abstinence based sex education: ‘Ann[e] Milton says the “Just say no” msg will not happen on her watch & we should contact her if we hear politicians say it.’ (Are the thought police about to discover a new ‘thought-crime’ I wonder – telling young people to wait before having sex?)

I wrote to her asking for an explanation but her office is now denying that she actually said it at all. So who is telling the truth?

The past government’s policy on preventing teenage pregnancy (condoms and morning after pills) has left us with a legacy of unplanned pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease, abortion and broken relationships.

In an instructive piece on the CMF website (titled ‘Quangos for the bonfire’) GP Trevor Stammers applauds the dissolution of the Teenage Pregnancy Independent Advisory Group (TPIAG) and the Independent Advisory Group on Sexual Health and HIV (IAGSH).

Since TPIAG was set up in 1998 to halve the national under-18 conception rate by 2010, it has put most of its efforts into the promotion and provision to teenagers of the very contraceptives which, when they fail, then constitute the commonest reason for requesting abortion.

The IAGSH (March 2003) equally adopted an ideological approach which consistently ignored evidence-based practice, such as studies indicating that abstinence-only education programmes can reduce both teenage conception, abortion and STI rates.

The IAGSH published many inaccuracies. In September 2003, they claimed those who took a US 'abstinence pledge' were 'at higher risk of STIs…because they have often had little or no information about contraception and safer sex'. Not only was no evidence presented to support the reason given, but even the purported 'higher risk' of STIs was not shown by the actual research which consistently showed lower rates of STIs (though not statistically significantly so) among pledgers.

The vast majority of members of both TPIAG and IAGSH had declared interests in the contraceptive and abortion industries. Baroness Gould, the chair of both, was President of the fpa and chaired a pro-abortion lobby group in Parliament.

Like Baroness Gould, many of the members of one of these two 'independent' groups were also members of the other; whereas there were no representatives at all with any experience of alternative strategies such as the highly successful ABC programmes in Uganda or Love for Life programmes in Northern Ireland, where teenage pregnancy and STI rates are far lower than in England, Wales and Scotland.

The Coalition Government says it wants to work with charities and churches across the whole sepctrum. Supporting the work of groups like Love for Life would be a good step in the right direction.

Let’s hope that Anne Milton’s reported statement this week was in fact a misreport (rather than a Clintonesque ‘misspeak’) and that she is not taking us back into the darkness from which, with the help of the quango bonfire, we were starting to emerge.

New amendment seeks to give women right to crisis pregnancy counselling independent of the abortion industry

I was interested to see that MPs Frank Field (Labour) (pictured) and Nadine Dorries (Conservative) intend to put down an amendment on abortion counselling to the Health and Social Care Bill.

The amendment will require new GP consortia to make provision for independent advice and counselling for women presenting at the GP’s surgery with a crisis pregnancy; transferring the requirement away from the remote abortion provider to the local GP. Dorries makes her case on Conservative Home.

What is particularly striking about this amendment is that neither Field nor Dorries are known as being ‘prolife’ – their major concern is about women’s health.

Britain’s abortion laws leave vulnerable women without the most basic support and help when facing a crisis pregnancy.

In practice, women have little access to any counselling independent of the abortion industry and that which is provided is carried out according to the College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists guidelines, which have been widely criticised in the national press (see Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail) for underplaying the physical and psychological consequences of abortion.

I have previously posted an open letter to David Cameron about them on this blog. (The Prime Minister’s staff have incidentally sent me a short three sentence reply on his behalf thanking me for my letter but not answering any of my questions – so no surprises there)

Those GPs, like Tamie Downes, who attempt to help women facing crisis pregnancies find themselves being maliciously reported to the GMC and ‘outed’ in national newspapers, simply for daring to provide a much-needed service.

Furthermore, whilst over 90% of abortions are funded by the NHS, there is no financial provision for counselling, meaning that private abortion providers in particular have a vested financial interest in women deciding to go ahead with the procedure.

This means that women with unplanned pregnancies who are seeking advice and support presently receive little or no counselling at all. Many feel rail-roaded into the decision. Face to face post abortion counselling is only provided if the woman returns to the abortion clinic and very often, it isn’t available.

Many women who have abortions do not experience adverse consequences, however, many do. The link between abortion and subsequent pre-term delivery, with all its complications and huge associated costs, is now well established.

Also, a landmark paper published in the British Journal of Psychiatry in 2008 has shown that pregnant women who abort are 30% more likely to develop mental health problems than those who do not.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists now acknowledges research that shows a link between abortion and mental illness, has revised its guidance on the matter and is currently carrying out a major review of the literature.

The quest to make abortion quick and accessible has meant that many women enter the process confused, without proper information, unaware of any physical or mental health consequences.

This amendment, if passed, will give them the opportunity of a properly informed choice. I hope that it enjoys wide support from both sides of the House.

Tuesday 8 March 2011

David Cameron, by his comments about homosexuality, demonstrates that he does not understand what true tolerance actually is

The number of cases involving Christians falling foul of the prevailing orthodoxy on homosexuality is growing steadily.

I commented recently on that of Dr Hans-Christian Raabe, a Manchester GP, who was sacked by the Home Office from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) simply for quoting an article published in a peer-reviewed journal supporting a link between homosexuality and paedophilia.

Then there is Lesley Pilkington, a counsellor, who is facing disciplinary proceedings by the British Association for Counseling and Psychotherapy for trying to assist a man who had approached her asking for help dealing with unwanted feelings of same-sex attraction. He turned out to be a gay undercover journalist who was seeking to expose her, as she discovered when the story appeared in a national newspaper.

Most recently we have the case of Eunice and Owen Johns, who were effectively prevented by a judge from becoming foster parents after telling a social worker they would not tell a child that homosexuality was acceptable.

Some commentators, who ironically are well known for supporting the gay rights agenda, are saying that these judgements and disciplinary actions have gone too far.

Former Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris has said that he felt Dr Raabe’s sacking was discriminatory.

Gay historian David Starkey said on BBC’s Question Time on 3 March that penalising Christians for their beliefs about homosexual behaviour is ‘intolerant, oppressive and tyrannical’.

Commenting specifically on the cases of Christian foster carers and B&B owners who have suffered under unjust equality policies, Starkey added, ‘It seems to me that what we are doing is producing a tyrannous new morality that is every bit as oppressive as the old.’

He warned that this new morality was intolerant, oppressive and ‘intrusive into family life’ and claimed that ‘we are producing a new tyranny’.

Against this background, Prime Minister David Cameron’s comments, when questioned in Derby yesterday about the Johns’ case, appeared quite bizarre.

Asked if he thought Christian views were incompatible with an acceptance of homosexuality he said: ‘I think Christians should be tolerant and welcoming and broad minded.’

Pointing out that he also went to church, he added: ‘This matter was decided by a court in the appropriate way and I think we should rest with the judgement that was made.’

Taken at face value, the Prime Minister seems to believe that expressing the view that homosexual acts are immoral is now unacceptable, even for Christians.

This view is consistent with his sacking of Tory candidate Philip Lardner last year for stating on his website that he believed homosexual acts were ‘not normal behaviour’, a view held by a significant section of the British population.

Tory MP Chris Grayling’s comments about Christians offering ‘bed and breakfast’ being justified in denying double beds to gay couples staying in their homes almost certainly cost him a cabinet post.

Theresa May managed to hold on as Equality Minister after the election, despite over 75,000 people joining a Facebook group asking for her to be sacked on the basis of her past ‘homophobic’ voting record, but only because she said her views on homosexuality had now changed.

It seems that it is no longer acceptable in the Tory party to express the view that homosexual acts are in any way unnatural or immoral. But in fact the orthodox Christian position, upheld by the Bible itself, is that they are both. (I discuss the matter of 'homophobia' elsewhere)

The fact that at least one of these incidents predated the formation of the coalition government suggests that David Cameron is personally committed to his views, and does not hold them simply in order to appease the Liberal Democrats.

But he is advocating a very strange form of tolerance.

Voltaire, the French philosopher, satirist, the embodiment of the 18th-century Enlightenment, is remembered as a crusader against tyranny and bigotry.

His teaching on tolerance is summed up by the quote, ‘I may disagree with what you have to say, but I shall defend to the death your right to say it.’

David Cameron uses the word ‘tolerance’ but seems not to believe in the same sort of tolerance as Voltaire. When the Prime Minister says that Christians should be tolerant, he means that they should not express beliefs with which people like himself disagree.

By contrast, Voltaire sought to defend the right of his opponents to express views he strongly disagreed with, and saw this freedom as a bulwark against tyranny and bigotry.

David Cameron also seems to want to encourage Christians to teach that homosexual acts are not immoral.

Here he finds himself disagreeing not with Voltaire but with Jesus Christ himself. In speaking to the church of Thyatira in Revelation 2:18-29, Jesus, after commending them for their ‘deeds, love and faith, service and perseverance’ goes on to say: ‘Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality…’.

It seems that this 'Thyatiran' approach is exactly what David Cameron is advocating. But it is not a form of tolerance of which Jesus Christ himself approved.

Christian teaching is very clear that all sex outside the context of marriage (a lifelong, covenant relationship between a man and a woman) is morally wrong.

There are of course many sins other than sexual sins. But Christians should be free to believe and teach what the Bible itself teaches, without being castigated by a 'churchgoing' Prime Minister for doing so.

David Cameron, by his comments yesterday about homosexuality, demonstrates that he does not understand what true tolerance actually is.

Monday 7 March 2011

Pro-euthanasia lobby group encourages its members to give ‘evidence’ to its own discredited commission in attempt to boost flagging support

The lobby group Dignity in Dying (formerly the Voluntary Euthanasia Society) has been very quiet lately but it appears it is now attempting to build momentum for its next attempt to change the law to allow so-called ‘assisted dying’ (a euphemism for euthanasia and assisted suicide).

This will not be an easy task. Three attempts to change the law in Britain over the last six years have been singularly unsuccessful resulting in defeats of 148-100 (Joffe Bill), 194-141 (Falconer amendment) and 85-16 (Macdonald Bill) in 2006, 2009 and 2010 respectively. In fact opposition is building all over the world with euthanasia bills being defeated in Canada, Australia, the US, Israel and France all in the last twelve months.

DID’s latest attempt to influence decision-makers has centred around a private consultation called the ‘Commission on Assisted Dying’ which it set up last November to consider ‘what system, if any, should exist to allow people to be helped to die and whether changes in the law should be introduced’.

The commission has said it will take oral and written ‘evidence’ throughout the year and produce a report in the autumn. DID’s hope is that the conclusions, when published, might influence parliament.

The consultation has already, however, received a lot of bad press from critics who see it as unnecessary, unbalanced and lacking in transparency. In fact of the first eleven expert witnesses invited to give evidence six have declined to do so. One has called it a sham. As a result it is rapidly losing all credibility.

The commission, which was ‘suggested’ by DID is being chaired by Lord Falconer, an active proponent of legalising assisted suicide, and at least eight of its twelve members share his views. Furthermore it is being financed by Terry Pratchett, one of DID’s own trustees.

Now it appears that DID is lobbying its own membership to give ‘evidence’ to its own commission.

In a letter to supporters on 2 March, Policy Support Officer Anna Boehm, writes:

‘The Commission would like to hear your views and has devised a 15-part questionnaire which you can complete online or download from the Commission's website…The Commission will also accept submissions in the form of letters, reports or videos - all of which should be submitted via the website or by email…Please send in your views as a supporter of assisted dying.’

Boehm is apparently is concerned that opponents of a change in the law might somehow influence the outcome:

‘public consultations on the subject in the past have been grossly skewed by a very vocal minority who oppose any change to the law’.

I don’t think she need worry too much.

Judging by the response so far there has been very little interest.

Only 60 written submissions have been posted on the website in the first four months and most of them come from people who share her views.

Furthermore, the composition of the commission itself, and the fact that it is being financed, chaired and manned by members of her own group, will guarantee that it comes up with the conclusions she desires regardless of what evidence is put before it.

The real question is whether anyone will take any notice.

DID has failed to effect a change in the law to allow euthanasia and assisted suicide because it has failed to convince parliamentarians and decision-makers in the country’s major institutions that such a move would not endanger the lives of vulnerable people by putting them under pressure to end their lives.

These people will not change their opinion just because a pressure group proposes, funds, fronts and runs an inquiry and then encourages its own subscribers to tell it what it wants to hear.