- as of three hours ago.
And, for now, the liberal social consensus just about continues to hold in the UK.
The amendment (to the Embryo Bill) to reduce the abortion time limit to 20 weeks (a time point heavily promoted by Nadine Dorries MP, of the “Twenty week campaign”, and sundry other crypto-antiabortionists) was defeated by 323 votes to 190.
The crunch amendment on reducing the limit by two weeks to 22 weeks was defeated by 304 to 233.
Other amendments, designed to embarrass Gloomy Gordon and to make symbolic points about what kinds of families should or should not be allowed to have children via IVF, were also defeated by similar margins.
And all live on TV. The BBC parliament channel is not exactly the most entertaining television. But somehow tonight seeing it live seemed to be important.
Not so much because I have an overwhelming interest in the issue of abortion, I should say. Abortion, and the science and culture wars that surround it, is not something I tend to think about unless my sole Evangelical Christian scientist friend tries to start a moral discussion about it.
What has concentrated my mind, and that of many other UK science bloggers, is the way that the anti-abortion side in particular misused the scientific and medical evidence to promote their view that the limit should be lowered “because the facts say so”.
The scientific and medical consensus on the Bill (for), and on the figures for fetal viability (no convincing evidence that the poor survival pre-24 wks has changed), has been near universal. But this has not always been clear in the press coverage.
There are a number of stories that could be written about the Embryo Bill, the abortion time limit, and the coverage of both.
One might be about “The four miracle babies”. These are four 22 week gestation infants, born at University College Hospital and treated in their Neonatal ICU over a period of five years, whose survival Nadine Dorries MP apparently feels outweigh pretty much all the other medical evidence about the viability of very premature babies in the UK.
A further topic might be the things different religious groups believe about the onset of life in utero – interestingly, these views are not as fixed as you might think – and how their views map (or don’t) to the foetal embryology.
And still another, or possibly an extension of the last topic mentioned, might detail “some things the pro-life lobby don’t tell you” about fertilization and early pregnancy.
No promises, and foetal embryology is definitely not my scientific field, but I may try and tackle one or two of these if I have time.
But to close this little recap, I have reproduced below the key summary diagram from the Trent study published last week in the BMJ. This study, more than any other piece of evidence, probably ensured that MPs voted to retain the present 24-week limit. The diagram shows survival to discharge from hospital of very premature babies born in the Trent region and admitted to the neonatal ICUs . The take-home message was that, while advances in therapy had improved survival for infants born at 24 weeks or later, before 24 weeks the picture had not changed, and remained grim. Worth a thousand words.