Anti-abortion groups vow to keep fighting

PRO-LIFE campaigners have vowed to resume their fight to cut the time limit for abortions after the next election.

Pinning their hopes on a Conservative victory, they predict that a Tory government would be more likely to deliver a cut in the present 24-week limit.

Despite emotive pleas from anti-abortion MPs, attempts to reduce the limit were rebuffed in the House of Commons late on Tuesday night. The closest vote, on a possible cut to 22 weeks, was lost by 71 votes.

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Although MPs were given a free vote on abortion, proportionately more Conservative MPs than Labour backed a reduction.

David Cameron, the Tory leader, voted to reduce the limit to 22 weeks while Labour leader Gordon Brown wanted to keep the status quo.

Both men insisted the issue should be decided on a free vote. But Labour MPs were ordered to come to the Commons to vote by whips.

Nadine Dorries, the Tory MP who proposed a reduction to 20 weeks, yesterday suggested the limit could be cut under a Tory government. "I would hope that if there was a change of government things would be slightly different," she said.

"By and large Labour has always backed pro-choice, and the Conservatives have been pro-life. I am neither of those; I support abortion in the first trimester; it is late abortions that I don't support."

The Alive & Kicking Alliance, made up of pro-life groups and medical professionals, also vowed to continue its fight for a reduction in the number of abortions in the UK. In 2006, more than 200,000 abortions took place in England and Wales and 13,081 in Scotland. Of these, 1.3 per cent in Scotland were performed after 18 weeks.

The leaders of Alive & Kicking yesterday accused parliament of being "seriously out of touch" with the public mood.

Its spokeswoman, Julia Millington, said: "Two out of three people, including three out of four women and two out of three doctors, have signalled their support for a lowering of the 24-week upper limit.

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"That this refusal to lower the limit was led by the Prime Minister and his health ministers, and involved a three-line whip recalling government MPs to Westminster, shows that the government is not listening and is prepared to run roughshod over public opinion and put party politics above the health of women and their unborn children."

Despite the outcry from moral conservatives, there is little chance that parliament will have another go at the abortion debate ahead of the next election.

The SNP has called for a commission to be established to examine the scientific basis for reducing the limit.

The push to reduce the term was tacked on to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, which critics argued was an inappropriate mechanism for changing the abortion law.