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ABORTION FOES OFFER CASH TO SAVE TWINS

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Anti-abortion activists are offering cash to try to stop a pregnant woman from abort-ing one twin, in a case that has stirred national controversy over Britain's liberal abortion laws.

The woman's doctor says she wants the abortion because she can't afford two more children, but hospital officials say money isn't the issue, and they have not told the woman about the offers.The leader of a pro-abortion doctors' group on Tuesday denounced what she called the "auctioning" of the fetus after offers to the 16-week-pregnant woman if she forgoes the abortion soared to nearly $77,000.

Authorities at Queen Charlotte Hospital in west London said they could not tell the patient, a 28-year-old single mother who already has one child, about the cash offers because it would violate confidentiality rules.

It was unclear, however, how the woman could avoid hearing about the money offers.

The story has received wide coverage in the British media since the weekend. The woman's obstetrician, Professor Phillip Bennett, told a Sunday newspaper he had agreed to abort one of the twins because she said she couldn't afford two more babies.

The controversy comes a week after fertility clinics were forced to destroy some 3,300 unclaimed frozen embryos. The destruction, under a law limiting storage of embryos to five years, stirred an ethical debate and outraged anti-abortionists.

Abortion is available virtually on demand in Britain. But the case involving the twins is unusual because it involves aborting a healthy fetus in a naturally conceived multiple pregnancy.

The procedure is usually carried out only in the case of multiple pregnancies resulting from fertility treatment and where one fetus is abnormal, or where a dangerously large number of fertilized embryos have been inserted into the womb.

Bennett, the obstetrician, said the procedure involved killing one fetus by injection, after which it would remain in the mother's womb full term. He said it would endanger the other fetus.

Anti-abortion groups expressed horror at the procedure.

"The woman will be carrying a dead baby in her womb for some weeks ahead, and I just think the whole prospect for her and for her babies is horrifying," Phyllis Bowman, director of the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Children, said Tuesday.

On Monday, the society announced that a London couple had offered 25,000 pounds - nearly $39,000 - for the woman to cancel the abortion.

A London-based Christian radio station said a businessman called to offer 20,000 pounds - $31,000 - and an Italian organization, Movement for Life, offered to pay the woman $217 a month.

And another British anti-abortion group, Life, said it had an offer of $1,500.

Wendy Savage, a gynecologist with the group Doctors for a Woman's Choice on Abortion, described the offers as "part of the anti-abortionists' campaign to whip up sympathy for their position that all abortion is wrong."

"I find it horrifying that a woman is having her private medical history bandied around and that people as it were are auctioning her unborn child," she said in a BBC radio interview.