Lib Dem 'blackmail' on abortion bid
David Cameron was accused of giving in to Liberal Democrat "blackmail" over abortion as MPs overwhelmingly threw out a bid to prevent termination providers offering counselling.
In a last-ditch bid to win support for her proposal, Tory MP Nadine Dorries told the Commons that the Prime Minister dropped initial support because of pressure within the coalition.
Cabinet ministers Liam Fox and Iain Duncan Smith were among high-profile backers in the free vote on the amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill.
But with the Labour co-sponsor of the amendment Frank Field withdrawing his backing at the last minute, the change was defeated by 368 votes to 118, majority 250.
All three main party leaders had indicated their opposition to moving to "independent" counsellors rather than organisations connected with offering abortion procedures.
Ms Dorries told MPs Mr Cameron had initially been "very encouraging" about her move but was then placed in an "impossible position" by the Lib Dems.
When she tackled him directly, he inadvertently caused laughter in the Commons by calling her "frustrated" and then sat down amid the uproar saying he had to "give up" on answering.
The defeat, after an increasingly bitter debate, was welcomed by one of the providers Bpas (British Pregnancy Advisory Service).
Chief executive Ann Furedi said: "Bpas is pleased to see Nadine Dorries' amendment so overwhelmingly rejected.
"We look forward to being able to focus our efforts on the issues which pose a genuine problem for women considering ending a pregnancy."
Mr Field said he was satisfied with the Government's pledge to examine the issue.
It was the first Commons debate on the controversial issue since May 2008 when Ms Dorries' attempt to reduce the upper time limit for abortions to 20 weeks was also defeated.
Ms Dorries (Mid Bedfordshire) said Mr Cameron had initially been "very encouraging" and helped draft the change but was then placed in an "impossible position" by the Lib Dems.
She pointed the finger at former Lib Dem MP Evan Harris, one of the most vocal critics of the change and a member of the party's policy committee.
"Basically the Liberal Democrats, in fact a former MP who lost his seat in this place, is blackmailing our Prime Minister," she said.
Facing critics during the debate, she denied being anti-abortion or seeking to "drive women into the arms of religious fundamentalists".
It was wrong though for bodies which were paid to carry out terminations also to be responsible for counselling women considering an abortion, she argued.
"If an organisation is paid that much for abortions, where is the incentive to reduce them?"
Health Minister Anne Milton said the Government was "supportive of the spirit" of the amendment" and would bring forward proposals for regulations after consultation.
Shadow health minister Diane Abbott said Ms Dorries' amendment was a "shoddy, ill-conceived attempt to promote non-facts to make a non-case".
She added: "The case this amendment is seeking to make is that tens of thousands of women every year are either not getting the counselling that they request or are getting counselling that is so poor that only new legislation can remedy the situation.
"This amendment is the opposite of evidence-based policy making."
At question time Ms Dorries demanded the Prime Minister tell Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg "who's the boss", bemoaning excessive influence by the junior coalition partner on a range of policies.
In an inadvertent put-down, Mr Cameron said he understood Ms Dorries was "extremely frustrated", prompting howls of laughter from MPs.
As the uproar continued, he sat down saying: "I am going to give up on this one."
A third Cabinet minister, Owen Paterson, also voted for the amendment but Mr Clegg and Labour leader Ed Miliband both went through the "no" lobbies.
Mr Cameron was unable to vote as he was in talks at Downing Street with President of the European Council Herman van Rompuy.
Ms Dorries was not the only Tory backbencher to question whether Mr Clegg's party was having too much say in the coalition - Mark Reckless also making a similar point.
Mr Clegg's senior adviser Norman Lamb later said it was important for the two sides of the coalition to "maintain trust".
Mr Lamb told Sky News' Boulton and Co: "I'm sure that the whole nature of the coalition evolves and it goes through different phases and I think some damage was done around the AV campaign.
"I think it's really important to maintain trust. We want to have good government above all else, the country wants to have good government.
"That involves not only us being assertive and demonstrating what we are bringing to the table, but also that there are good relationships and that the Government works well."
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