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LIFE DIGEST: U.N. panel OKs human cloning ban; NARAL drops opposition to pain bill; abortion groups warn Dems

WASHINGTON (BP)–The United Nations’ legal committee has approved a resolution calling on all countries to enact comprehensive bans on human cloning.

The panel voted 71-35, with 43 abstentions, to urge U.N. members to “prohibit all forms of human cloning inasmuch as they are incompatible with human dignity and the protection of human life.” The recommendation will go to the U.N.’s General Assembly for consideration.

The declaration is nonbinding and fell short of a treaty supported by the United States and more than 60 allies that would have mandated a ban on cloning for both reproductive and research purposes. While U.N. members are united in supporting a prohibition on reproductive cloning, some countries oppose a ban on research cloning, which results in the destruction of embryos.

Pro-life leaders applauded the U.N. resolution.

“It’s an important first step in the right direction in raising the awareness of the conscience of the world that this is a dangerous scientific practice that must face worldwide condemnation,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

Bioethicist David Prentice of the Family Research Council described the vote in a written statement as a “stunning defeat for countries that advocate cloning to produce experimental human beings. This has the effect of setting an international standard and sends a clear signal that the global community will not condone the cloning of human beings for any purpose.”

Great Britain and Belgium, leaders of the opposition to the resolution, said it would not affect their policies in support of research cloning. His country “doesn’t feel bound by this declaration,” said Belgium representative Marc Pecsteen, according to the Associated Press.

The declaration also calls for countries to restrict genetic engineering methods that may conflict with human dignity and to protect women from exploitation. Some supporters of the resolution expressed concern women in underdeveloped countries would be targets for the procurement of eggs to use in research cloning.

The U.N. has been embroiled in a three-year battle over a cloning ban, with Costa Rica leading a pro-comprehensive ban contingent that outnumbered its foes by three to one. In November, however, the legal committee agreed to consider a nonbinding resolution in February after the impasse on a binding treaty could not be overcome.

Proponents of research cloning defend its legalization primarily for the purpose of extracting stem cells from embryos, which, however, are destroyed in the process.

NARAL BACKS OFF: One of the country’s leading abortion rights organizations is no longer opposing a bill supported by pro-life organizations.

NARAL Pro-Choice America — formerly the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League — has withdrawn its opposition to the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act, which would require that women be informed about the pain their unborn children will experience if they undergo late-term abortions.

“Pro-choice Americans have always believed that women deserve access to all the information relevant to their reproductive health decisions,” NARAL President Nancy Keenan said, according to LifeNews.com. “For some women, that includes information related to fetal anesthesia options. NARAL — does not intend to oppose this legislation.”

There are “bigger issues to fight to draw attention to the broader issue of reproductive health,” Keenan said, according to a Feb. 16 article in The New York Times. “We are standing strong in the next Supreme Court battle.”

Other abortion rights organizations have not changed their positions, however. The Planned Parenthood Federation of America and National Abortion Federation continue to oppose the measure, LifeNews reported.

“It appears that NARAL has concluded that opposing the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act would be so bad for the organization’s public image that they are willing to acquiesce in Congress enacting a statute that will regulate abortionists nationwide,” Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, told LifeNews.

The bill has two provisions: (1) An abortion doctor would have to provide a woman at least 20 weeks into pregnancy with scientific evidence about the severe pain her unborn child would experience during the procedure, and (2) if the woman still decides to have an abortion, the doctor would be required to offer anesthesia for her unborn baby in order to reduce the unborn baby’s pain.

The legislation is S. 51 in the Senate and H.R. 356 in the House of Representatives. The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is one of many pro-life organizations supporting the bill.

PRO-CHOICERS WARN DEMS: The post-election conversation among Democrats about being more open to pro-lifers has elicited rebukes from some abortion rights organizations.

One group, Planned Parenthood Federation for America, even held out the possibility of establishing another political party. Karen Pearl, PPFA’s interim president told The New York Times some of her allies have said “to the degree that the Democrats move away from choice, that could be the real birth of a third-party movement.”

Pearl added, however, “When the day is done, I don’t believe [the Democrats] will backslide.”

Since their party’s convincing November losses in both the White House and Congress, some Democrat leaders have called for a new perspective on abortion. Failed presidential candidate John Kerry and new party chairman Howard Dean, both consistent abortion rights proponents, have said Democrats need to be more receptive to pro-lifers.

At least one pro-life leader has dismissed the Democrats’ talk. Carol Tobias, the National Right to Life Committee’s political director, charged the Democrats with “pulling the wool over the eyes of voters,” according to The Times.

The party’s support of abortion rights has prevented any candidate who is even moderately pro-life from being nominated to a national office for at least two decades and has reduced the number of pro-life Democrats in Congress markedly while pushing abortion opponents into the Republican Party.

STATE EFFORTS: Two states are considering legislative attempts to protect unborn children.

A committee in the South Dakota House of Representatives voted unanimously Feb. 11 for a bill that would make abortion a felony if the Supreme Court reverses the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, according to AP. Meanwhile, a House panel in Indiana approved a measure that would recognize the 20th week of pregnancy as the point of viability, which, if enacted, apparently would become the first such law in the country, The Indianapolis Star reported.

The South Dakota proposal would permit exceptions only when the mother’s life is threatened by the pregnancy. The bill would carry a maximum prison sentence of two years and a fine of $2,000, if it becomes law and Roe is overturned.

According to AP, Rob Regier of the South Dakota Family Policy Council urged the State Affairs Committee to “[s]end a message that South Dakota is more than just prepared to protect the unborn but eager to.”

The Indiana bill could impact abortion, assaults against or auto accidents involving pregnant women, and neonatal care, according to The Star.

SMALLEST SURVIVOR: A baby believed to be the tiniest to survive finally went home Feb. 8 after nearly six months in a Chicago-area hospital.

Rumaisa Rahman weighed only 8.6 ounces and measured only 9 ½ inches long when her larger twin sister, Hiba, and she were born Sept. 19 at Loyola University Medical Center. The twins were delivered by Caesarean section 26 weeks into their mother’s pregnancy.

Though she still requires oxygen, Rumaisa’s prognosis is “very good,” and she is expected to develop normally, said Jonathan Muraskas, a doctor who cared for the twins, according to AP.

When she went home, Rumaisa weighed 5 pounds, 8 ounces and was nearly 17 inches long.