Archive for March, 2009
British Parliament Launches Inquiry on Age Limit
By Father John Flynn, LC
ROME, OCT. 22, 2007 (Zenit.org).- A long-running debate over age limits for abortions was renewed last week in England. Current law allows abortions up to the 24th week of pregnancy, but improvements in survival rates for babies born prematurely have led to pressure for the limit to be lowered.
The Abortion Act of 1967 originally set at 28 weeks the legal limit for abortions. Then, in 1990, Parliament agreed to lower the time limit to 24 weeks.
An inquiry into the age limits commenced Oct. 15 by the House of Commons committee on science and technology. The committee Web page noted that the terms of reference for the inquiry do not include the ethical or moral questions related to the debate, but will concentrate on scientific and medical evidence about fetal viability.
One of those backing a reduction in the age limit is obstetrician Stuart Campbell, reported the Telegraph newspaper on Oct. 15. Campbell pioneered three-dimensional scans of fetuses sucking their thumbs and walking in the womb.
Campbell used to perform abortions at 20 weeks, the Telegraph reported. “I feel pretty appalled at the idea that we abort normal babies and most of them are born alive and most of them are allowed to die,” he said during a BBC radio program.
The committee’s Web site contains several hundred pages of evidence submitted to the inquiry.
A submission from the Department of Health to the committee provided information about abortions in England and Wales. In 2006, there were 193,700 abortions. Of these, 89% were carried out at under 13 weeks of pregnancy.
Out of the total number, 2,948 abortions were performed at 20 weeks and over. Of these, 1,262 were performed at 22 weeks and over, and 136 at 24 weeks and over.
The Christian Medical Fellowship, an interdenominational Christian organization with more than 4,500 British doctor members, is in favor of a reduction. In its submission to the committee, it outlined a number of concerns related to abortion.
For a start, it argued that maternal mortality after abortion is higher than currently recognized. Moreover, the fellowship noted, strong evidence exists that induced abortion increases risk of premature birth in subsequent pregnancies. Such premature births not only cause neonatal mortality and ongoing disability, but also imply significant economic costs.
There is overwhelming recent evidence that abortion causes significant rates of serious mental health problems, the submission continued. Several studies have demonstrated higher levels of depression, suicidal tendencies, and problems with drug and alcohol use among women who have undergone abortion.
The fellowship also called for Parliament to reconsider the norms for abortions for reasons of fetal abnormality. The upper limit for abortion for disabled babies should not be higher than that for able-bodied babies.
The question of disabled babies being aborted was also raised by the London-based Lejeune Clinic for Children With Down Syndrome. In its submission to the parliamentary committee they said that in 2005 alone, 429 abortions were carried out on babies with Down syndrome. The law sets no time limits for abortions on babies that are held to be disabled.
The clinic also commented that after Down syndrome is detected, some women feel pressured to abort their babies. As well, very few women are offered information on help available to raise a child with the chromosomal disorder.
The submission argued that most children with Down syndrome are happy, sociable and enjoy friendships. Around 80% attend mainstream primary school, either full or part time, and nearly all integrate in a loving fashion into their families. Behavioral problems can occur, but this can be helped, the clinic pointed out.
In its conclusions, the clinic argued: “It is hard to see how the majority of children with Down syndrome fulfill the criteria for abortion on the ground of serious untreatable disability.” In fact, the majority suffer from only moderate learning difficulties and treatable physical health problems.
A written submission to the parliamentary committee was also made by the Pro-life Alliance (PLA). It started by noting its objection to any form of intentional abortion, at whatever age limit of the fetus.
Benefit of the doubt
Nevertheless, within the context of the current debate the PLA observed, “At the very least one would expect consensus in the country against the abortion of a viable baby, with the benefit of the doubt always on the side of the baby.”
Another pro-life group, also opposed to any form of abortion, which made a submission was the nonprofit organization Comment on Reproductive Ethics (CORE). Opinions over abortion vary widely, it observed, but there is common concern over the rising abortion rates in Britain.
The CORE submission also called for greater transparency about abortions. Currently 97% of all abortions are justified under Ground C of the Abortion Act, which groups together both the medical or psychological health of the mother as a justification. It would be much better, CORE argued, for the two to be separated as they are quite diverse conditions.
It also called for greater transparency for abortions performed on the grounds of fetal abnormality. The submission mentioned the 2001 case of a baby aborted at 7 months for cleft palate, which caused a major public reaction.
After the outcry over this case the government’s statistics became notably less specific in identifying details of the abnormalities for which abortions have been performed.
A petition for changes in the abortion law also came from Scotland, in the form of an article published in the Scotsman newspaper July 6 by Cardinal Keith O’Brien, archbishop of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh. The Catholic leader called on Prime Minister Gordon Brown to review the law and thus ensure greater respect for human life.
The Scotsman reported that the latest data show that 13,081 abortions were carried out in Scotland in 2006, compared with 12,603 the year before — the fourth consecutive annual increase.
“Abortion is neither political nor medical, though clearly it has implications in these spheres,” the cardinal stated. “It is about morality and the destruction of human life.”
Cardinal O’Brien praised Brown for being “a man of principle and deeply held moral convictions,” and noted his efforts to reduce poverty in developing nations. He then called on the prime minister to support human life for those who are unborn.
“What exists in the womb is not ‘a potential human being,’ but rather ‘a human being with potential,'” the cardinal argued.
Not a right
Benedict XVI also had strong words to say recently on protecting unborn life. During his trip to Austria, he addressed the members of government and diplomatic corps Sept. 7.
During his speech, given in the reception hall of Vienna’s Hofburg Palace, the Pontiff recalled that Europe is the place where the notion of human rights was first formulated.
“The fundamental human right, the presupposition of every other right, is the right to life itself,” the Pope pointed out. “Abortion, consequently, cannot be a human right — it is the very opposite.”
Benedict XVI acknowledged the difficulties women experience in going ahead with difficult pregnancies, but at the same time, expressed his concern for the unborn children who have no voice.
He called upon political leaders to help bring about a society that welcomes children and encourages young married couples to start new families. Doing so, the Pope added, requires creating “a climate of joy and confidence in life, a climate in which children are not seen as a burden, but rather as a gift for all.” A gift unfortunately too often rejected by society today.
Canadian Study Calls for Greater Responsibility in Use
By Father John Flynn, LC
ROME, OCT. 21, 2007 (Zenit.org).- An explosion in media technology means both parents and society need to be more alert to the dangers children face. This was the warning contained in the Oct. 15 report entitled “Good Servant, Bad Master: Electronic Media and the Family,” published by the Ottawa-based Vanier Institute of the Family.
Author Arlene Moscovitch reviewed Canadian and international research on the media, and in her report she acknowledged the positive side of the media, which is a useful source of education and entertainment. As well, new technologies also help families stay in contact with greater ease.
At the same time the report warned of some more negative consequences.
— Heavy users of electronic media in all age groups spend less time interacting with partners, children and friends.
— Researchers fear that excessive exposure to media among very young children may lead to problems of attention control, aggressive behavior and poor cognitive development.
— With growing problems of obesity and diabetes among children, it is a concern that the vast majority of food advertisements during children’s programs are for foods high in sugar, salt and fat.
— Many parents worry about children being online for long periods and the kinds of things to which they are exposed.
Moscovitch noted that according to the Consumers Electronics Association of America, the average U.S. home now boasts 26 different electronic devices for communication and media. In Canada only 1% of the population owned a DVD player in 1998, now they are present in 80% of households.
Also in Canada, 94% of young people have Internet access at home. Half of grade 11 students, and surprisingly even 20% of those in Grade 4, have their own Internet-connected computer, separate and apart from the family.
Mobile phones are used by 44% of young Canadians to surf the Internet, and 22% have webcams.
Citing data from a time use survey carried out in 1995 by the government body Statistics Canada, the report noted that Canadians aged 15 and over spent just over 2 hours each day watching television, compared to more than 3 hours in 1998.
Radio use remained relatively stable between 1998 and 2003, at about 3 hours a day, but 30-45 more minutes a day is going to telephone usage, and time spent on the Internet has risen.
A study of 5,000 youth carried out in 2005 by the Media Awareness Network found that on an average weekday, Canadian students spend — sometimes simultaneously — 54 minutes instant messaging; 50 minutes downloading and listening to music; 44 minutes playing online games; and only 30 minutes doing school work.
Overall, in Canada and the United States many young people are spending less time with print and television media, and more time plugged into interactive media like mobile phones, video games and Internet-connected computers. Moreover, this media activity is increasingly done in their own bedrooms, rather than in communal family spaces.
Infants at risk
One of the main forebodings in the Vanier Institute’s report is how very young children are exposed to the media. Moscovitch cited a recent study that showed 50% of U.S. infants and preschoolers live in homes with three or more TVs, 97% have clothes or toys based on media characters and three-quarters share their living space with a computer.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time at all for children under the age of two years, yet a 2003 study of the media habits of U.S. children from birth to six years of age found that almost 70% of children under two years spend on average two hours every day watching either television shows or videos. In fact, 26% of toddlers under the age of two had a TV set in their bedroom.
Other recent reports confirm the deleterious effect of television for the very young. On May 27, the Boston Globe reported that a study by pediatric researchers found that about 40% of 3-month-olds watch television or videos for an average of 45 minutes a day, or more than five hours a week.
The study was based on 1,009 random telephone interviews with families in Minnesota and Washington, and published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine journal.
This early exposure can have a negative impact on an infant’s developing brain and put children at a higher risk for attention problems and diminished reading comprehension, according to the researchers.
Turning to older ages, the Vanier Institute reported that media usage evolves to become more active and socially oriented. A 2005 study of young Canadians carried out by the Media Awareness Network found that among young people, 28% have their own Web site, 15% have online diaries and blogs, and that by grade nine, 80% of all teens are listening to music online and instant messaging daily.
By late 2006, 55% of all U.S. online teens were using social networks such as MySpace and Facebook, and 55% had created online profiles.
The dangers of social networking sites was confirmed by a report dated Oct. 14, published by the Pew Internet and American Life Project.
The study entitled “Teens and Online Stranger Contact” reported that 32% of online teens had been contacted by someone with no connection to them or any of their friends, and 7% of online teens say they have felt scared or uncomfortable as a result of contact by an online stranger.
Those who have posted photos of themselves and created profiles on social networking sites are more likely to have been contacted online by people they do not know, according to the study.
Among teens who have been contacted by someone they do not know, girls are significantly more likely to report feeling scared or uncomfortable as a result of the contact compared with boys.
Many parents, the Vanier Institute report observed, are uneasy about the media’s impact on their children. Apprehensions include not knowing who their children are in contact with, what sort of songs they listen to, and if they are falling prey to temptations such as online gambling and pornography. Moreover, many parents are unskilled in the technologies being employed by their children.
Parents can, however, influence their children’s media habits. The report recommends a number of steps.
— Limit the number of individually owned devices and move them out of bedrooms and into public spaces.
— Limit the times at which they can be used. For example, don’t have the television on all the time, particularly during meals.
— Limit also the total amount of time kids spend with their devices on a daily basis.
— Make rules about giving out personal information or visiting certain sites on the Internet.
— Help children, particularly those who are younger, to distinguish between fantasy and reality by talking with them about the content they encounter in the media.
— Discuss with children their experiences on the Internet and ask them about the games they play, the sites they create and the way they interact socially.
The report also recommended that parents help instruct their children in the values they need, and not just leave it to chance through the values that the media communicates. By doing this young people will be more prepared to critically judge the information and goals coming from the media.
“Users should practice moderation and discipline in their approach to the mass media,” recommends No. 2496 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. “They will want to form enlightened and correct consciences the more easily to resist unwholesome influences.”
A responsibility that becomes more indispensable than ever in this age of rapidly developing media technologies.