Tougher abortion laws urged

SANTIAGO – Chilean Senator Hernan Larrain is calling for his country’s laws against abortion – already the strictest in Latin America – to be toughened. Noting that there are too many illegal abortions in Chile, Larrain wants to increase prison sentences to up to 15 years from the current five years.

Abortion has been illegal in all circumstances in Chile since 1989. Larrain says the law is ineffective and has allowed “a highly profitable abortion industry to develop.” Justice Minister Soledad Alvear says she is totally opposed to abortion, but believes current penalties are strong enough, and increasing them “is not the correct way to go.”

Babies feel pain, say scientists

LONDON – In research that has far-reaching implications for the medical and surgical treatment of infants – as well as for the abortion debate – scientists have shown for the first time that newborn children actually feel pain longer and more acutely than adults.

Until now, it was presumed that a baby’s nerve system was too immature to function fully, or that babies reacted in a way similar to, but less efficient than, adults. But researchers at University College London have found that babies feel pain sooner than an older child or adult.

The British government is considering guidelines that would see preborn children receive painkilling drugs for surgery in the womb or late abortions. Currently, unborn animals are protected against scientific operations, but operations – including abortions – can be carried out on preborn human beings.

Mexico abortion debate may falter

MEXICO CITY – Health Secretary Juan Ramon de la Fuente’s proposal for a national debate on the legalization of abortion, as well as his promise to create a commission to study the issue, have infuriated religious officials, unnerved the government, and drawn a cautious response from other politicians.

All Mexican states currently have laws limiting abortion.

“We do not think that this is a priority matter,” said Rafael Oceguera, deputy director of the ruling party’s congressional delegation. An opposition party member charged that the government was using the issue as “a smokescreen of topics that bother the country at this moment.”

Members of the National Pro-Life Committee protested recently outside de la Fuente’s office with signs reading, “No to the legalization of the culture of death.”

Court upholds right to abortion

JOHANNESBURG – South African pro-life groups say they are disappointed by a Pretoria High Court’s decision to uphold the “right” to abortion. Judge J. Sydney McCreath ruled that a fetus cannot be classified as a person.

“Life begins at conception. What the court has done is simply to misunderstand that fact,” said a spokesman for the groups, adding that the struggle to protect preborn babies will continue.

The coalition says it intends to explore other options. “We can appeal, or follow a completely new challenge, based on other legal grounds,” said the spokesman.

The Roman Catholic Church, other Christian groups, Muslims, and traditionalists argued previously that the ANC government’s Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act of 1996 is essentially no better than legalized murder.

Abortion charges dropped

PERTH – Abortion charges against Perth doctors Victor Chan and Hoh Peng Lee have been dropped, marking the end of controversial law reforms in Western Australia. The state’s director of public prosecutions said it was “not in the public interest” to continue with the charges.

The development follows the passing of legislation in May that legalized abortion, as long as a woman gives “informed consent” and receives counselling prior to the abortion procedure.

“When things get terrible, I always make a joke of it,” said Chan afterwards. “Like jail’s not so bad as long as I get my newspaper and radio.”

High abortion rate in Kazakstan

MOSCOW – Abortion kills more than 40 per cent of children conceived in the central Asian nation of Kazakstan, where the procedure is carried out some 200,000 times a year. The high abortion rate is a legacy of Communist-era policies.

Pathfinders International, a private group, announced the figures in the Kazak capital of Astana as part of its effort to “improve” women’s health in the former Soviet republic. Pathfinders is working with medical personnel and teenagers in Kazakstan to distribute birth-control information.

Genetics experts debate eugenics law

BEIJING – Foreign and Chinese scientists for the first time discussed China’s controversial law against congenitally disabled people having children at the International Congress of Genetics, which attracted 1,200 delegates to the Chinese capital. The law caused an international outcry when in it was introduced in 1995.

The law states that couples with “certain genetic diseases of a serious nature” may marry only if they agree to long-term contraception or sterilization. Couples who are already married are advised to use birth control, including abortion. Congress secretary-general Chen Shouyi said there was “misunderstanding” among foreign geneticists about China’s law. “Doctors only give some suggestions. It’s the parents’ own choice,” he claimed.

Japanese birthrate plunges

TOKYO – Births in Japan are down to an all-time low of 1.39 per woman – a statistic the government fears will mean a less prosperous, more troubled and lonelier Japan. The trend will also see the squeezing of funds needed to provide for increasing numbers of elderly among Japan’s 130 million people.

The health and welfare ministry says the birth rate is far below what is needed to keep the population steady. Within a decade, the total population will begin to fall. Japan is slowly changing to make it easier to raise children. Men help out more at home, babysitting agencies are sprouting and more bosses are allowing employees to take time off to care for their children.

Charge reduced in illegal abortion

CLEVELAND, Oh. – A 63-year-old woman accused of performing an illegal abortion has had felony charges against her dropped. Prosecutors instead filed a misdemeanor charge against Melissa Henderson. Police say Henderson, who has no medical training, tried to perform an abortion on a 15-year-old girl recently. The girl, who was about three months pregnant, miscarried and was taken to hospital.

The investigation “is about whether (Henderson) is qualified to perform the abortion, not about the abortion itself,” said coroner Elizabeth K. Balraj in explaining why she didn’t examine the baby. The Department of Children and Family Services is also investigating.

Big dollars for African birth control

NEW YORK – The William H. Gates Foundation has awarded grants totalling $1.36 million to Columbia University’s Joseph L. Mailman School of Public Health for three international “women’s health” projects in Africa. The projects are intended to prevent maternal mortality, bring “effective health services” to refugees, and integrate “family planning” with HIV prevention in rural Uganda.

The William H. Gates Foundation also provided $590,000 to Columbia’s Centre for Population and Family Health for the support of “effective reproductive health services” for refugees. The Foundation was established in 1994 by Microsoft chairman Bill Gates and his wife Melinda to support favourite causes.