A LEADING anti-abortion campaigner this week accused the Government of not playing fair over the Embryo Bill, after the crushing defeat of the prolife clause in the House of Lords.
Phyllis Bowman, national director of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said that, although the Government has always maintained it was neutral on the issue of whether to allow embryo research, it had "done all it could" behind the scenes to ensure the clause permitting research was passed.
"Government leaders are determined to defeat the pro-life measure. They ensured that backbenchers who are not normally in the House were there to vote on the issue," said Mrs Bowman.
Peers decided by 234 votes to 80, a majority of 154, to allow research on embryos up to 14 days old. The Bill contained alternative clauses, one permitting and one banning such research.
Mrs Bowman said the SPUC was "bitterly disappointed" by the result. But she said it had come as no surprise, as the prolife movement knew its support was in the House of Commons rather than the Lords. And she pledged to fight on for victory when the issue is debated by MPs after Easter.
"We have always known that our strength in the Lords in no way compared with that in the Commons and we look with hope to the elected representatives of the people to reflect the views of the majority in this country," said Mrs Bowman.
The pro-life defeat was a personal blow for leading Catholic layman the Duke of Norfolk, who had spearheaded attempts to persuade peers to vote against experimentation.
In an impassioned plea delivered during the two-and-ahalf hour debate in the Lords, he said a human embryo must be given the same status as a child, an adult or a peer of the realm. He moved an amendment to ban all embryo research.
"There is nothing you can learn from the human embryo that cannot be learnt from an animal embryo in the study of genetic diseases. Recently, immense strides have been made in the search for a cure of genetic defects and these are all dependent on research on born people who have these diseases," he said.
Another Catholic peer, Lord Rawlinson of Ewell, supported the Duke of Norfolk's amendment and said people would not tolerate a right to kill or experiment with the life of a person.
Catholic Labour peer Lord Stallard said that millions of ordinary Christians were very worried about embryo experimentation. The 14-day limit was just the start — next it would be argued it should be 28 days or more, he said.
After the vote Nicholas Coote, assistant general secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference, said the bishops were "very dismayed" at the peers' decision.
Earlier, Cardinal Hume had sent an open letter to the Duke of Norfolk urging all Catholic members of both Houses of Parliament to do all they could to oppose the clause allowing experimentation.