Archive for the ‘Abortion’ Category


Britain keeps legal abortion limit at 24 weeks

Britain’s Parliament has voted to keep the upper legal limit on abortion at 24 weeks, disappointing campaigners who argue survival rates have improved.

The vote blocked attempts to lower the legal limit to 22, 20, 16 or 12 weeks in Parliament’s first look at abortion laws in almost two decades.

The upper limit was reduced from 28 weeks to 24 weeks in 1990. Britain legalised abortion in 1968.

Many European countries allow abortion on demand up to 12 or 13 weeks in to pregnancy, after which it is limited to cases where the baby or mother is at risk.

Termination is legal up to 22 to 24 weeks in Spain, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

For three hours, British Parliamentarians passionately debated the right of women to choose versus the right of a foetus to live.

“While there have been medical advances in caring for premature babies, only a small number born after 24 weeks gestation can survive,” Health Minister Dawn Primarolo told Parliament, arguing for the status quo.

She said there was no scientific evidence showing a significant improvement in a baby’s chance of survival at 24 weeks since the 1990 law.

Labour law-maker Julie Morgan said any move to reduce the upper limit was an attack on abortion and the right to choose.

But proponents of a reduction said it was morally wrong for babies at 24 weeks to be terminated when they could survive and that foetal pain and distress must be taken into account.

“I think there comes a point when it has to be said this baby has a right to life also,” Conservative lawmaker and former nurse Nadine Dorries said, who argued for a 20-week limit and offered a graphic description of late terminations.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown had said he favoured 24 weeks.

Around 200,000 abortions were carried out in Britain in 2006, of which about 3,000 were conducted after 20 weeks, 1.5 per cent of the total.


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Midwifery school product of 50-year Ethiopian dream

By David Mark

Dr Catherine Hamlin in a maternity ward in an Ethiopian hospital

Dr Catherine Hamlin: has devoted almost 50 years to helping Ethiopian women give birth. (File photo) (Unspecified)

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Some people have dreams and they remain just that, but an Australian gynaecologist has realised her 50-year passion – opening a midwifery school in Ethiopia.

Dr Catherine Hamlin’s new school is designed to train midwives to help women in rural areas of Ethiopia where women suffer horrendous injuries because of obstructed labour.

About 30 minutes out of the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, Dr Catherine Hamlin is opening a new midwifery school and says it fulfills an ambition that began when she arrived in Ethiopia with her husband 49 years ago.

“It is a fulfilment of a great dream I’ve had because we’ve been mending these girls for nearly 50 years and we’ve been doing nothing about prevention,” she said.

The couple did briefly open a school in 1960, but it was closed down due to a lack of funds three years later and the dream was waylaid.

She says the 9,000 cases of women with labour-related injuries every year simply swamped her and pushed her dream to the side.

“Five per cent of all women in the world need some help to have a baby and it is these five per cent with no help in the countryside, that you get this fistula injuries, which cause untold sorrow,” she said.

“A long labour, a still-born baby and then a hole in the birth passage between the bladder and often between the rectum as well so that all their body waste is passing down through the birth passage and they are ashamed of this injury.

“They are outcasts from their society, often deserted by their husbands and their life is one of poverty and misery.”

In 1975 Dr Hamlin opened her first hospital devoted to fistula patients and another three have followed, but she says she constantly lamented the lack of a preventative focus.

“This has touched people’s hearts,” she said.

“It is a terrible thing to happen to a woman and I’ve been able to raise money with my staff and we have been so taken up with this work that we neglected to do anything about prevention.”

But a few years ago the idea of a midwifery school re-emerged.

“We wanted to take country girls, train 12th grade students from the countryside so that they would go back to the countryside,” she said.

“[They] could diagnose when a woman is likely to become obstructed in her labour and get her to a centre where she could have a safe delivery.”

A handful of students will begin studying at the school this year, but Dr Hamlin has big plans.

“We’ve only got 12 students this year but we are going to take more and we hope to be able to put, one day, a midwife in every village of Ethiopia,” she said.

Even after 49 years of tireless work for the women of Ethiopia Dr Hamlin, who was made a member of the Order of Australia in 1995, has no plans to ease her efforts in the east African country.

“No, I don’t feel my work is done,” she said.

“I feel I have got a lot of work to do to let the world know that this suffering is going on all over the developing world and Africa is full of women suffering, hiding away in little dark huts, ashamed of their injuries.”

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Graphic anti-abortion pamphlets spark emotional debate

By Rachael Brown

The flyer explained what organs and body features have developed by the stage of most abortions. (File photo)

The flyer explained what organs and body features have developed by the stage of most abortions. (File photo) (Getty Images)

An anti-abortion group in Victoria has mailed out a graphic pamphlet that in some cases has been seen by young children.

The group, known as the Tell the Truth Coalition, distributed the pictures of aborted foetuses to homes across the state in unmarked envelopes.

Many of those who received the letter are furious that there was no warning about the images inside.

The unaddressed envelope had a small note warning it was intended for adults, but recipients were not prepared for what was inside.

Sarah, who had a miscarriage 18 months ago, says the envelope contained a flyer with a number of images of what appeared to be terminated foetuses at various stages of development.

“It became obvious to me that one of the images used is a foetus at approximately 12 weeks of age,” she told ABC Radio’s The World Today.

“Having miscarried a foetus at that age, it filled me with horror that somebody was bringing that image into my life having gone through quite a traumatic experience myself.

“When you have a miscarriage, you are aware that you are losing a child, you don’t see it in such a visual fashion, and for somebody to then choose to put that image into your mind is quite confronting.”

Sarah says she supports the right of groups to express their opinions on abortion, but thinks there are less offensive ways of doing so.

“I absolutely believe that people have the right to freedom of speech, however I think that there are some sectors of our community that should be protected from seeing particular images that would be disturbing,” she said.

“My small son could have actually opened that and then found himself confronted with those images.

“I don’t think we can forget that there are people in our community that should be protected from those sorts of things.”

‘Critical issue’

Alongside the brochure’s graphic pictures of foetuses is the claim that in Australia, two out of every five babies are aborted.

The flyer also explains what organs and body features have developed by the stage of most abortions. It states that 11-week-old foetuses are able to swallow, digest, urinate, sleep, dream and taste.

It also lists the psychological and physical risks to women, as well as guilty comments from those who have had the procedure.

Victorian National Party leader Peter Ryan agrees this letter drop was not an appropriate way to raise the abortion issue

“I think that people need to be very constrained about the way in which they put their case in what is a very, very emotional matter for discussion,” he said.

“I don’t know what has actually caused this to occur now. I suspect it is because there is anticipated to be legislation in the Victorian Parliament over the course of the coming weeks and months which will seek to decriminalise abortion.

“I understand there are very emotive and strong arguments and strong points of view around this critical issue. But I don’t think this is the proper way to present the case, for or against the issue of decriminalisation of abortion.”

Urging restraint

Mr Ryan says those involved in the abortion debate need to be constrained in the way in which they present material that reflects their point of view.

“Apart from anything else, from their perspective, I think what they are going to see is that presenting the material in this manner, in fact, engenders a point of view against that which they are seeking to encourage,” he said.

He says people called his office in distress at the images.

“It had found its way into the hands of children who had unwittingly opened it, it had found its way into the hands of those who had been involved in procedures which had produced outcomes that were all the more confronting,” he said.

The ABC tried to contact the Tell the Truth Coalition, which delivered the pamphlets, but the group was only responding via an answering machine message.

But Marcel White, a spokesman for the Tell the Truth Coalition, spoke to Derryn Hinch on Fairfax Radio.

“It shows the reality of the killing that is going on with the unborn babies in the state of Victoria and the rest of Australia,” he said.

“That’s like at primary school and high schools where they show the picture of the Holocaust victims to education people about the violence that took place in the second World War.”

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Scientists ‘create embryo with 3 parents’

Scientists in Britain say they have created a human embryo using DNA from one man and two women, which they say could help provide treatment for genetic diseases.

Researchers from Newcastle University in north-east England used 10 embryos which were unsuitable for in vitro fertilisation (IVF), and replaced faulty mitochondria cells from the mother with undamaged cells from a female donor.

The research was disclosed last week in parliament’s upper House of Lords but has not yet been published officially in scientific journals, the university said overnight.

The embryos were developed for five days and the transplant on one of them was deemed a success.

Mitochondria play a vital role in the body’s energy supply. However, if they are damaged they can cause a series of serious neuro-muscular diseases, liver failure, blindness, deafness or strokes.

“The research aims to tackle and prevent a group of relatively uncommon but really severe diseases which affect the nervous system and muscles,” said Professor Patrick Chinnery, a Newcastle University neurogenetic expert.

“Ultimately in many … cases they are fatal and there is no treatment. The aim is to develop ways of preventing them from being passed on from the mother to her offspring.”

In five to 10 years’ time, transplanting “good” mitochondria could be done within days of a routine IVF, he said.

The baby would only inherit the mother and father’s characteristics, as the transplanted mitochondria from the donor would not have any effect on the child’s personality or appearance, the scientists said.

Josephine Quintavelle, of the pro-life group Comment on Reproductive Ethics, said: “We should not be messing around with the building blocks of life.

“To experiment on a human child in this way is absolutely unforgivable.”

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Alcohol in pregnancy: how safe is it?


Ian R Walpole
MJA 2007; 187 (5): 273


Drinking for two? Rural Health Education Foundation. Canberra: Rural Health Education Foundation, 2007 (DVD or VHS, 26 minutes).

This short dvd presentation addresses the thorny issues of fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). It is very likely that FASD, in particular, is underdiagnosed in Australia and in most countries outside North America.1 The DVD aims to raise awareness of the conditions by providing practical, clear, preventive information.

Three scenarios are used to demonstrate that any level of maternal alcohol intake during pregnancy may cause irreversible damage to the fetus, producing children with a wide spectrum of physical and neurodevelopmental problems. One studies a child of a clearly alcoholic mother; another involves a low to moderately drinking mother and her adult son with FASD. Half of the presentation illustrates the broader parallel problems accompanying those of alcohol in pregnancy in various Indigenous communities, featuring a persuasive field worker fully discussing the issues with groups of adults and children, male and female.

Contrasting with the lack of clear policies and guidance statements in Australia, recently discussed in the MJA,2 here is a very clear message that alcohol intake should be ceased before and during pregnancy.

If one accepts that the aim of this presentation is a preventive one, those statements which are less sound can be overlooked. For example, there is no evidence that paternal alcoholism contributes to FAS/FASD.

For the sake of clarity, the presenters do not enter into discussion of FAS/FASD-associated issues: quantitation, type of maternal alcohol intake or threshold toxicity, the very important social, nutritional and other lifestyle associations, certain diagnostic difficulties with non-pathognomonic physical and psychological profiles, and the risk of stigmatisation. There is evidence that frequently those mothers who are at greatest risk are likely to be less influenced by the message of alcohol abstinence.

Despite these reservations, this DVD presentation could be a useful tool for educational group discussion or display in appropriate waiting rooms.

  1. O’Leary CM. Fetal alcohol syndrome: diagnosis, epidemiology, and developmental outcomes. J Paediatr Child Health 2004; 40: 2-7. <PubMed>

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UK to trial pill availability without prescription

By Stephanie Kennedy

Britain's Health Department is planning to start the trial early next year, but the scheme has been strongly criticised by doctors and pharmacists. (File photo)

Britain’s Health Department is planning to start the trial early next year, but the scheme has been strongly criticised by doctors and pharmacists. (File photo) (AFP)

In the UK, women could soon be able to buy the contraceptive pill at their local pharmacy without a doctor’s prescription.

It is a plan aimed at cutting the rate of teenage pregnancy in Britain and making the process of getting the pill more convenient.

Britain’s Health Department is planning to start the trial early next year, but the scheme has been strongly criticised by doctors and pharmacists.

Instead of seeing a general practitioner, women will be able to walk into a chemist and obtain the pill after a discussion with the pharmacist.

That conversation could involve a questionnaire about her health and other medication she might be taking. The pharmacist could also take her blood pressure.

The Government says the move towards pharmacy availability is intended to make life easier for women, and also to cut teenage pregnancy rates.

Figures in the UK are twice as high as in Germany, three times the rate as in France, and six times as high as in the Netherlands.

Dr Mark Pickering, a GP in London who represents the Christian Medical Fellowship, thinks the Government’s new initiative will only encourage teenagers to have sex.

“I think my worry is just that will this really do very much? Why are we proposing opening this up to pharmacies? I mean, the whole thing about sex is just far wider than do you go and get a pill,” he said.

“And if a young girl is going to the pharmacy to get her contraceptive pill, if her boyfriend thinks, ‘well, great, you don’t get pregnant, we can have lots of sex’, if he gives her chlamydia, she gets infertile – there’s a whole much bigger picture to that.”

Extra training

Under the scheme, pharmacists will be given extra training before they can sell the pill over the counter.

Rebecca Findlay, from the Family Planning Association, says pharmacists are professionals who already provide care for the community.

“The issue is, who actually prescribes contraception at the moment? It’s actually doctors and nurses in a variety of different settings,” she said.

“We do pharmacists a little bit of a disservice, I think. They are highly skilled, highly trained professionals who, with the extra training and extra support, why wouldn’t they be able to provide this as part of the care that they already provide to people in their community?”

The issue has been hotly debated in pharmacy chat rooms. While some are interested in the idea, others have serious concerns.

There is the question of whether girls under the age of 16 would be able to obtain the pill from the chemist without their parents being informed, and some pharmacists might have moral issues if they do not believe in contraception.

Pharmacist Bob Dunkley says the job is difficult enough without the extra responsibility of prescribing the pill.

“It’s not like prescribing cough remedies, it is a tablet that affects a woman’s physiology very profoundly, and I am of the humble opinion that pharmacists are not equipped to do this,” he said.

Some pharmacists have suggested that the first prescription could come from a doctor, then the pharmacist could supply repeats without further scripts.

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Short films to help teach life skills for teens

By Youth affairs reporter Michael Turtle

The producers of the DVD are now hoping it will be used as a resource by schools across Australia [File photo].

The producers of the DVD are now hoping it will be used as a resource by schools across Australia [File photo]. (ABC)

A new campaign has been launched based around a series of new, hard-hitting realistic short films that aim to get teenage boys to talk about issues like depression and sexuality.

The new resources will help the efforts of teachers, given some of the educational material they had to use still featured 1970s actors wearing flares.

The simple things, like asking someone out on a date, can become all-consuming when you are young.

“I was doing that thing when you repeat the last word out of every sentence and hope to God that it makes sense somehow,” one boy said.

Young men can also face more serious concerns, like drugs, crime and sexuality and the new DVD called 6 addresses some of these issues through short films about six mates.

It was produced by the city of Melville in Western Australia and the driving force was health promotion officer Janet Armarego.

“What we’re trying to do is we’re trying to give young men that insight into the fact that things may seem really bad in your life at any point in time but it always gets better, it doesn’t stay like that,” she said.

Irrelevant ‘joke’ material

Mrs Armarego started work on the DVD when she discovered that the current educational material was old and irrelevant and there was nothing to help get young men talking about their feelings.

“A lot of the resources that they watch at schools these days are probably made about 20 years ago and are more of a joke than they are actually sort of credible in terms of what young men do these days,” she said.

The music used in 6 is modern and the language is realistic with plenty of swearing.

To try to get it right, the film-makers did consultations with young people about their lives.

“So we asked about their own … group of friends – what do they look like and give us some of the character profiles and tell us a bit more about what sort of stuff you do?” Mrs Armarego said.

The DVD is now being launched nationally with the help of Headspace, the federally-funded youth mental health initiative.

Headspace chief executive officer Chris Tanti says it is important because young men are facing serious issues.

“We know that guys – generally right throughout the lifespan – don’t talk about emotional issues,” he said.

“But particularly young men are pretty embarrassed about talking about what they are going through and some of the challenges they face and some of the stuff that causes them problems.”

Males account for 80 per cent of suicides in Australia and young men are twice as likely as women to have substance abuse problems.

“There is a lot of peer pressure for young men around alcohol use and substance use generally but certainly with young men there is considerable risk taking behaviour and I think 6 covers that very well,” Mr Tanti said.

The producers of the DVD are now hoping it will be used as a resource by schools across the country.

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