by Joanna Moorhead EXCITED pro-lifers this weekend hailed 1990 as the year of the unborn child, and said they belived they could restrict the abortion timelimit to IR weeks with an amendment to the forthcoming Embryo Bill.
Their optimism, which has been growing steadily over recent weeks, has now reached feverpitch with the news that the Government has promised time for a proper debate on the issue during the next Parliamentary session. All previous abortion bills have been restricted to Private Members' time, and have therefore been open to filibustering.
"It's an important breakthrough," said David Alton, SLD MP for Mossley Hill. "The point of my Bill last year was to make it clear that abortion was no longer a matter just for Private Members' legislation, and I think it demonstrated that it was no way to deal with such an important
"That straitjacket has now been broken, and I regard it as a move of enormous constitutional importance."
Changed attitutes to abortion, both among MPs and in the country at large, meant the time was now ripe for the first major advance in 22 years, said Mr Alton. "People know now that we're not just talking about a clump of tissues, and 1 think the legislation should reflect their views," he said.
Phyllis Bowman, national director of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said the coming months were likely to see many campaigns and pro-life rallies. "It would be fatal to assume the battle has been won at this stage," she said.
"I won't be sure until we actually see the wording on the amendment."
The Embryo Bill, which the pro-life movement will be heavily involved with in the hope of outlawing in vitro experiments,
is likely to be introduced into the House of Lords later this year.
A Government amendment to the Bill will seek to reduce the time limit on abortions to 24 weeks from its present 28 weeks, and pro-life MPs such as Alton and Conservative MP . Ann Widdecombe will then spearhead an attempt to amend this further, down to as low as 18 weeks.
Pro-abortionists are unlikely to give in without a struggle, and those who support a restricted timelimit are steeling themselves for a bitter fight.
Labour pro-life MPs, in particular, are expected to find themselves in the firing line. Since 1985 the Labour party has adopted a policy of support for the 1967 Abortion Act, and since the Alton Bill last year there have been attempts to deselect MPs who are known to favour a change in the law.
Although there should be a free vote on the Embryo Bill, some MPs fear there will be calls for a three-line Labour whip.