MPs may vote on 13-week abortions

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Pro-life campaigners are planning to force a vote on cutting the upper time limit for abortion from 24 weeks to as low as 13 weeks when the Government Bill on embryology is introduced in the Commons next month.

The campaigners say they want to cut the limit to the European average, but privately admit they will not win a Commons majority for such a low limit, which could radically reduce the number of legal abortions in this country.

They will offer MPs a range of options in the vote, and believe they could win a vote for a cut to 20 weeks. "We think we could win a vote on 20 weeks. We think there is a consensus for that," said a pro-life source.

The Bill will present both sides with the chance for a change in the law for the first time in 17 years. The upper time limit was cut from 28 weeks in 1990, but the battle promises to be bitter.

Dawn Primarolo, the Public Health minister, was criticised yesterday after telling MPs that the Department of Health believed there was insufficient evidence to support any reduction in the upper time limit.

Nadine Dorries, a Tory MP and former nurse, challenged Ms Primarolo at a meeting of the Commons science and technology committee, saying: "Are you the right minister for the job? You said you are committed to the liberalisation of abortion law."

Ms Dorries also said some of Ms Primarolo's evidence was "not correct". She argued with the minister after she quoted Department of Health briefing notes saying that survival rates at 21 weeks were zero, one per cent at 22 weeks and 11 per cent at 23 weeks. Ms Dorries said she had averaged out the results for the country, and said that far higher survival rates had been achieved in the best units.

The committee is due to agree its report over the weekend, which also marks the 40th anniversary of the 1967 Abortion Act.