BY PIERS MCGRANDLE
OUTGOING CATHOLIC MP David Alton is to lead a campaign to convince the government of the presence of "foetal pain".
However the devout MP for Liverpool Mossley Hill, who announced his retirement from Westminster last week, hopes to steer clear of any legislative methods, and is keen to attract normally unsympathetic colleagues to his cause.
"Nobody wants to legislate when it is unnecessary; we would far rather do this in discussion with the government", he told the Herald.
There are two proposals being put forward to the Government. One is to "eliminate trauma to unborn children by using anaesthesia". The other is for "women to sign a commitment form before the operation".
This latest move, organised by the fast-growing Move'Bent for Christian Democracy (MCD), follows groundbreaking medical research showing that foetal pain is discernible at nine weeks, the stage at which most abortions are carried out.
"Because of abortion, the foetus is treated as a nonperson, as if it is not there; in fact, it is a human being with a complete nervous system", a spokesperson said.
A seminal article last July in the doctors' journal The Lancer, has acted as a catalyst to the MCD's campaign. The journal printed a case study into foetal sentience, documented by a group of respected medics, which concluded that the foetus responded hormonally to a medical procedure known as "interuterine needling".
Data drawn up by doctors showed that "the foetus mounts a hormonal stress response to invasive procedures."
It raises the possibility that the human foetus feels pain in utero". A similar point was produced in a paper this year by Dr Maria Fitzgerald, from University College in London.
The recent Lancet piece was a contribution to a debate on foetal pain initiated in 1941 by neurological expert ID Hogg.
Hogg was followed by the pioneer of foetal medicine, Professor Sir William Liles', who repeatedly stated that foetuses respond to pain in the same way as dogs or people.
The government has always allowed a free vote on abortion, although successive Health Secretaries have advocated increasingly liberal legislation.
A Department of Health
spokesman told the Catholic Herald this week that the Government was aware of "considerable diversity of opinion within society and the medical profession. The Government does not have one view on foetal sentience; they listen to a whole range of opinion personal, medical and scientific".
The BMA has spoken out in favour of the existing abortion laws. Dr Fleur Fisher, head of ethics, described the current law as a "humane piece of legislation and we have always backed it".
The Birth Control Trust also condemned the move, describing it as "very insidious".
"It relies on bad, unapproved science and is clearly intended to introduce an element of guilt both for doctors, and women seeking abortions," a spokesperson said.
David Alton, aged 44, is most famous for his Private " Member's Bill in 1987 to reduce the legal age of abortion to 18.
The Bill, which gained widespread public support, was finally talked out of Parliament.
Last year, Mr Alton successfully added an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill controlling the marketing of gratuitously violent videos.