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Parliament & Politics: Cross-party group aims to liberalise law on abortion

A CROSS-PARTY group of MPs will be lining up tomorrow to introduce a backbench Bill to liberalise the abortion laws to enable doctors to offer women abortion on demand.

More than 60 MPs are hoping to pack the ballot of MPs to introduce a pro-abortion Bill.

If it is taken up by an MP in the first six places in the ballot, the storm over abortion could rival the disputes this year over banning fox hunting.

MPs whose names are pulled out of a hat in a Commons committee room, will be inundated with proposals for legislation by pressure groups. However, the failure of the Bill to ban fox hunting showed only non-controversial measures, often handed out by the Government, stand any real hope of reaching the Statute Book.

Campaigners against blood sports are likely to delay their bid for a second Bill to ban fox hunting until the Lords has been reformed.

The "Voice for Choice" group, led by Gareth Thomas, the Labour MP for Harrow West, tabled a Commons motion to mark the 30th anniversary of the Abortion Act, with the backing of 67 MPs, including the Tory Crispin Blunt and the Liberal Democrat Jenny Tonge. Supporting the Voice for Choice campaign, they said doctors with an ethical objection to abortion should be obliged to declare it and that abortion should be available throughout the UK on the request of a woman in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy .

But they are fiercely opposed by the cross-party Pro-Life group of MPs, who include Ann Widdecombe, the Tory spokeswoman on health, and Tom Pendry, the former Labour frontbench spokesman on sport. A counter-motion by the group, led by Joe Benton, the Labour MP for Bootle, warned against liberalising the abortion laws. It claimed many young doctors have had their careers in gynaecology destroyed because of their objections to abortion.

It condemned the call to make it mandatory for all doctors with a conscientious objection to abortion to register their views, claiming it would strengthen the legal framework for a witch-hunt against those opposed to abortion.