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LIFE DIGEST: NYC still U.S. abortion capital; scientists seeking rabbit-human embryos

WASHINGTON (BP)–New York City has maintained its hold on an infamous title — abortion capital of America.

The New York Daily News reported Jan. 15 the following, recently released statistics from the city’s Department of Health to illustrate why the Big Apple deserves the designation:

— There were 74 abortions for every 100 births in the city in 2004.

— Of every 100 pregnancies in the city, 40 resulted in intentional abortions, far surpassing the national average of 24 in 2002, as estimated by the Alan Guttmacher Institute. (In New York City in 2004, there were 124,100 live births, 91,700 induced abortions and 11,700 spontaneous abortions.)

— Abortions in New York City for out-of-town women increased from 57 to 70 of every 1,000 between 1996 and 2004.

On the same day, New York Magazine gave more insight into why the city is the country’s abortion capital:

— The ratio of abortions to births is one to one in some parts of the city.

— New York City has “more abortions performed on minors, more repeat abortions and more late abortions (over 21 weeks)” than any other United States city.

— Seven of every 10 abortions performed in New York state occur in its most populous city.

— There are 34 clinics in New York City that perform more than 400 abortions apiece each year.

“New York City has fashioned itself as being the philosophical center of ‘abortion on demand,’ and it has a thriving industry to show for it,” Christina Fadden Fitch told the Daily News. Fitch is legislative director of the New York State Right to Life Committee.

If the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion were to be overturned by the Supreme Court, the city’s abortion clinics could gain an even greater share of the killing business. The reversal of Roe would return abortion to the domain of each state.

In recent years, many states have approved abortion restrictions, such as parental notification and waiting periods. New York state, meanwhile, “has remained an island of unrestricted abortion rights,” New York Magazine reported.

The Center for Reproductive Rights, an abortion advocacy organization, has estimated 21 states are at “high risk” of outlawing abortion, if Roe were to be struck down. Another nine states have a “medium risk” of banning the procedure, according to CPR.

YUK FACTOR WARNING — British researchers are eager to take another step into the unethical morass of research on human embryos.

University of Edinburgh researcher Ian Wilmut, whose team cloned the sheep Dolly, and another scientist are asking for permission from the English government to create rabbit-human embryos in an effort to speed up stem cell research, according to a Jan. 15 report in The Guardian, a British newspaper.

The process will involve combining human cells with rabbit eggs, the newspaper reported. The researchers will seek to harvest stem cells with genetic defects from the hybrids in hopes of gaining understanding into the causes of certain diseases and discovering therapies as a result.

“The fertility of rabbits is legendary,” King’s College professor Chris Shaw said, according to The Guardian. “The most important thing is that with animal eggs, we have a much better chance of generating stem cells, and if we wait for human eggs, it’s going to be maybe a decade before we can do this. If we can use animal eggs, we could maybe have stem cells within one or two years.”

Foes of embryonic research were chagrined at the news.

“There is a lot of innate wisdom in the yuk factor, or repugnance as it is also known,” said Josephine Quintavalle of Comment on Reproductive Ethics, the newspaper reported. “My question is: What will they actually create? It is simplistic or deliberately deceptive to say they are simply making stem cells.”

The British researchers apparently won’t be the first in the world to create rabbit-human embryos, if they receive the go-ahead from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. Huizhen Sheng of Shanghai, China, published a 2003 study in which she said she harvested stem cells from rabbit-human embryos, The Guardian reported.

Stem cells are the body’s master cells that can develop into other cells and tissues, providing hope for the treatment of numerous afflictions. In addition to being extracted from embryos, the cells may be found in such non-embryonic sources as bone marrow, fat and placentas, as well as umbilical cord blood. Pro-lifers generally favor experiments with cells from non-embryonic sources because their extraction does not harm the donor.

Embryonic stem cell research has failed to produce any successful therapies in human beings and has been plagued by the development of tumors in lab animals. Meanwhile, research on stem cells from non-embryonic sources has produced treatments for at least 65 ailments, according to Do No Harm, a coalition promoting ethics in research.

RAEL TO THE RESCUE — Things could not look much worse for discredited South Korean cloning researcher Hwang Woo Suk, but at least he has a job offer — uninviting though it may be.

Clonaid — the cloning project of the Raelians, a UFO cult — has invited Hwang to work in one of its laboratories. In a release on its website, Clonaid says it believes Hwang “has cloned human embryos and has the knowledge to develop stem cell lines.” It also says it believes Hwang “has been discredited [because] he wasn’t in line with what the political and religious powers of this world wanted regarding the cloning technology.”

On the Clonaid website, Brigitte Boisselier, a Raelian bishop and Clonaid’s president, says 13 children have been cloned through the project. There has yet to be any independent verification of this claim.

Raelians hope to gain eternal life through human cloning by implanting their personalities and memories into their replicas. They believe extraterrestrials created life on earth.

Hwang, meanwhile, has said he would resign from Seoul National University but, at last report, had not done so. A SNU investigative committee recently confirmed as fraudulent the results of research by a team headed by Hwang. The cloning of human embryonic stem cell lines, reported in both 2004 and 2005, was fabricated, according to the investigators. Hwang asked for the forgiveness of South Koreans but said other researchers misled him, resulting in the fabricated results. Prosecutors are investigating charges of misappropriating research funds by Hwang.

CLONING PUSH ON — American stem cell researchers have renewed their efforts to clone embryos as a result of Hwang’s fall from the peak of the stem cell research mountain.

Scientists at Harvard, UCLA, the University of California-San Francisco and Advanced Cell Technologies in Worcester, Mass., have renewed their efforts to produce stem cell lines from cloned embryos, USA Today reported Jan. 18. Under a policy by President Bush, no federal funds are available for research that destroys embryos, so American scientists are seeking private money to underwrite their experiments. Harvard, UCLA and UCSF are constructing new labs, according to the newspaper.

ACT President Robert Lanza said the “race is back on, and I think the U.S. has a second chance to do this right.”

Doing it “right,” in this case, does not mean doing it ethically, as pro-life advocates point out. Cloning research is never “right” for the embryos who are destroyed in the process of seeking cures for other human beings.

BABIES ON ICE — Women who want a career during their normal child-bearing years will soon be freezing embryos for births later in life, some British fertility specialists predict.

Societal trends and technological advances will combine to make the storage of embryos for future use inevitable, reproductive pioneer Simon Fishel said at the Royal Institution in London, BBC News reported Jan. 20.

It will happen within 10 years “unless there is a sea-change in social attitudes that encourages women to have children younger and to give up their careers,” Fishel said, according to BBC News. “There are lots of women of reproductive age who are going to want to have a career, and they are not going to be frightened off by being told they should have children in their 20s.

“When we get to the stage where freezing eggs is quite safe and effective, there will be a significant proportion in our society who will want their eggs frozen at a younger age.”

Women increasingly are having children later in life. In December, it was reported English women giving birth in their 30s had for the first time surpassed the pregnancy rate of younger women, BBC News reported.