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LIFE DIGEST: Brits no allies to U.S. on abortion; gains mount for non-embryonic stem cells; Australians debate RU 486

WASHINGTON (BP)–Great Britain has proven a stalwart ally to the United States in the war on terrorism, but it is a different matter when the issue is abortion.

The British government announced Feb. 6 it would provide funds to abortion-promoting organizations in developing countries in an effort to replace grants withheld by the United States. The defiant step means the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) and other groups that perform or promote abortions will share in an additional $5.3 million from Britain.

Gareth Thomas, a minister at the Department for International Development, said of his government’s decision, “We work very closely with the Americans, but we have a very different view from them on abortion. Friends can disagree.

“We obviously continue to hope that the [U.S.] position will change,” Thomas said, according to The Guardian, a British newspaper.

The U.S. position probably will change -– if a pro-choice president is elected in 2008. That is what happened after the 1992 election. Promptly upon taking office in January 1993, President Clinton rescinded what is known as the Mexico City policy, which prohibits federal funds to organizations that perform or promote abortions in other countries.

President Bush reinstituted the policy after he was inaugurated in 2001. President Reagan first established the rule in 1984, announcing it at a population conference in Mexico City.

IPPF Director General Steven Sinding called the British action “very brave and very progressive. We’re deeply grateful for this gesture, not only financially but also politically.”

The IPPF has led the way in seeking to pressure foreign governments with pro-life policies to remove restrictions on abortion, according to the National Right to Life Committee.

When an organization declines to abide by the Mexico City policy, the U.S. funds go to other groups that are willing to refrain from promoting abortion.

ADULT STEM CELL GAINS -– Non-embryonic stem cells continue to show promising results in treating debilitating diseases.

Researchers said they were able to turn adult stem cells into cartilage in laboratory rats for as much as 24 weeks, according to a Jan. 30 report by HealthDay News. They are planning experiments seeking to extend the positive results to 48 weeks in rats and looking to pursue trials in human beings, team leader Johnny Huard of Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, Pa., told HealthDay.

The results provided hope for people whose cartilage has deteriorated because of osteoarthritis. People with the affliction normally are confronted with joint-replacement surgery since there is no method for repair of cartilage damage, HealthDay reported.

In a dramatic test on human beings, 33 patients with severe lupus have lived without any symptoms of the disease for as many as seven years since undergoing stem-cell transplants from their own bone marrow, according to the Associated Press.

Lupus is an inflammatory disease that, in its severe form, can harm vital organs.

Forty-eight patients had the experimental treatment at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. According to AP, lead researcher Richard Burt of Northwestern said the study “turned out very well, showing that we could do this safely.”

Research using stem cells from non-embryonic sources has produced treatments for at least 67 ailments, according to Do No Harm, a coalition promoting ethics in research. These include spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, sickle cell anemia, heart damage and various cancers. In addition to bone marrow, other non-embryonic sources for stem cells are umbilical cord blood, fat and placentas.

Embryonic stem cell research, which requires the destruction of the tiny human being, is a more widely promoted form of such experimentation, but it has failed to produce any successful therapies in people and has been plagued by the development of tumors in lab animals.

Stem cells are the body’s master cells that can develop into other cells and tissues, providing hope for the treatment of numerous afflictions.

POST-ABORTION LEGISLATORS -– The debate on the abortion pill RU 486 became transparently personal Feb. 8 in Australia, and two legislators with abortion in their past came down on opposite sides, The New York Times reported.

Sen. Nick Minchin, 52, also the country’s finance minister, said in debate on the Parliament floor in Sydney, “I bring to this debate personal experience. A former girlfriend of mine had an abortion.”

Minchin opposed the proposal to make access to RU 486 easier.

Sen. Lynette Allison, meanwhile, said during the debate, “An estimated one in three women have had an abortion. And I am one of them.”

Allison, 59, not only favored the measure but sponsored it.

Abortion was illegal when she had an abortion at the age of 18, Allison said.

“There are a lot of efforts to shame women who have had a termination,” she told The Times. “It was important to send a message to women that they were not alone, that there were people who understood.”

During the debate, she lashed out at men opposed to her bill. “It is galling to listen to the men -– and it is mostly men -– who have such contempt for women who terminate unwanted pregnancies who have neither the compassion nor the understanding of the huge, and for many, daunting task of taking an embryo the size of a grain of rice to adulthood,” said Allison, a leader of the liberal Democrats Party.

Minchin, a member of the conservative, governing Liberal Party, denied his position was based on his personal and religious perspectives. His stance is “about preserving women’s safety, not restricting existing rights to abortion,” he had written in a commentary earlier in the week in The Australian.

The Senate voted 45-28 in favor of Allison’s bill, which would strip the Ministry of Health’s authority to control importation and sale of the pill. Instead, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, which controls pharmaceuticals and consists of scientists and physicians, would regulate RU 486. The House has yet to vote on the measure.

Tony Abbott, a pro-life Catholic, directs the Ministry of Health.