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Foetal sentience committee plan branded a ploy to ‘roll back abortion rights’

22 Mar 2024 5 minute read
Lord_Moylan. Photo Roger Harris is marked CC BY 3.0

An attempt to set up a UK Government-backed committee to determine the sentience of unborn babies and embryos has been branded a ploy to “roll back advances” in abortion rights.

Conservative peer Lord Moylan insisted his proposed committee did nothing to change abortion law or “impinge on the legal rights of women to terminate a pregnancy”.

His Foetal Sentience Committee Bill would require ministers to create a group tasked with providing science-based evidence and expertise about the sentience of human foetuses in light of developments in science and medicine.

But as the House of Lords began considering the Tory peer’s proposals, Labour and Lib Dem peers warned of its consequences.

Legal limit

The current legal limit for most abortions is 24 weeks’ gestation, with the latest advice from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists suggesting it is “unlikely” that human foetuses feel pain before 28 weeks.

But Lord Moylan sought to suggest there was some disagreement among medical professionals about this, with the British Medical Association recommending pain relief drugs are used when operations are carried out on babies in the womb.

The Tory peer said: “I think it is fair to say that there is considerable breadth of view on this question of human foetal sentience and when it kicks in.

“We would all benefit, Government would benefit, but so would all the relevant professions, from having a forum in which a clearer and more determined view and one which developed over time could be thrashed out between different medical professions.”

He also suggested there were inconsistencies between the way the UK treats animals and human foetuses, claiming that the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Act 2022 allowed for the creation of a similar committee related to animals, while recognising the sentience of mammals and some sea creatures like lobsters and octopuses.

“I would be surprised if the minister wanted to say that a human foetus should be denied the same esteem as a lobster, but in fact that is the current position,” Lord Moylan said.

He also added: “The Bill does nothing to change abortion law.

“It does nothing to change the way in which any proposed future changes to abortion law are carried out.

“It has no implications other than providing a focus for scientific knowledge on the course of legal developments relating to abortion, and it does nothing to impinge on the legal rights of women to terminate a pregnancy.”

Medical advice

Labour peer Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws questioned why the committee would be needed in light of existing expert medical advice.

She added: “Dark money has surged into the United Kingdom’s anti-abortion groups in recent years.

“We should be concerned about overseas political influence inside our own country, but sadly many far-right organisations are being funded by sources that come this way.”

Lord Moylan intervened to ask if he was being accused of receiving “dark money”, to which Lady Kennedy replied: “I am perfectly happy to say that some innocent dupes are used by some of these organisations that are funded in this way.”

Tory peer Baroness Lawlor then asked: “What precisely has this to do with a Bill proposing a committee of research and analysis?”

Lady Kennedy replied: “It is quite clear that the purpose of this Bill is to seek to roll back advances that have been made in relation to abortion, and to try and limit the time limits that we currently have.”

International funding

Tempers continued to flare as Conservative former MP Lord Jackson of Peterborough spoke, taking issue with Lady Kennedy’s claims about international funding.

Labour frontbencher Baroness Thornton asked the Government whips to ensure Lord Jackson refrain from “shouting you and pointing” at her colleague.

Speaking from the Lib Dem frontbenches, Baroness Barker agreed with Lady Kennedy, telling the Lords: “This is a Bill which is part of a far wider anti-gender, anti-LGBT attack on human rights, which is a campaign which is international, and which is largely put forward, but not exclusively, by national conservatives and Christian nationalists.”

Health minister Lord Markham expressed “reservations” about the Bill, and said peers could set up such a committee without Government involvement if they wished.

He said: “I fear that if the Government was to set up such a committee, immediately you get into issues of who should be on it, what is the composition of it, is it one way or the other and it would inevitably lead to a politicisation of it all.”

While he said ministers did set policy on animal welfare, he added: “The Government does not set policy with regard to foetal awareness.

“When we consider matters as sensitive as that of foetal awareness it is right that clinical policy should be reached through medical consensus amongst the professional bodies who set clinical guidelines.”

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27 days ago

A lot of money is crossing the pond from far right think tanks and religious fanatics into the far right of the UK (think tanks, Tory MP’s etc.)

In the US this is awful the laws that are being passed that is by basically a load of old white men (in the main) telling women what they are allowed to do.

Mr Moylan was never fit for this role. He continues to show it. They are going for it.

Richard Davies
Richard Davies
27 days ago

I also am concerned that a (uk) government-backed committee to “determine the sentience of the unborn” would begin a slope to withdraw hard-fought abortion rights, so I personally would oppose this. This is about women’s rights and body autonomy and the only time a man should be involved is if they are the partner of a woman faced with such a decision! This also points to a wider concern, I don’t recall when he said but I do remember boris “the lying buffoon” johnson say that no government can “tie the hands of a future government.” To me that means… Read more »

27 days ago

They’ll need to grant sentience to fruit flies before this is over.

Ali Morris
Ali Morris
27 days ago

There is no other reason for this committee to be set up than to roll back abortion rights. This is simply rolling back rights by the back door.

27 days ago

Yet again the Conservatives are trying to be like the Republican Party in the US. If the US right wing had it their way abortion would be a criminal offence even if the girl was raped, and even if the pregnancy was endangering the mothers life.

27 days ago
Reply to  Rob

They have already done that at state level, it is illegal. They really have, its awful what they are doing. One of the latest was to grant life to all eggs frozen for IVF. Anyone pregnant going to the US for a holiday, may want to rethink their risk.

Taliban are wondering how they have been ousted on the nutter scale for this. And we have MP’s and politicos in the UK that take note of the likes of the “heritage foundation”. They are coming here.

Fi yn unig
Fi yn unig
27 days ago

This man accused Baroness Kennedy of making one of the most unpleasant speeches he had ever heard. The same man who described the speaking of Cymraeg as ‘linguistic fascism’. Don’t talk to me about unpleasant.

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