MPs have rejected a bill that might lead to the reduction in the abortion time limit from 24 to 21 weeks.
The House of Commons yesterday rejected by 187 votes to 108 Nadine Dorries' ten-minute rule bill to change the abortion limit and introduce a compulsory ten-day "cooling off period".
During this time women would be obliged to have counselling, and be informed of the medical risks and implications of the termination. Ms Dorries, Conservative MP for Mid Bedfordshire, said this would prevent much heartache among women in later life.
However, Labour MP Christine McCafferty argued that the "cruel bill" was "an attack on women's reproductive rights". She said there was no new scientific evidence to suggest the 24-week limit, imposed in 1990, should be reduced.
Ten-minute rule bills rarely become law, and are primarily a chance for backbench MPs to raise an issue of concern. Even if approved at their first reading, they go into a long list of private members' bills waiting for a second reading, and generally stop there.
However, speaking after the debate, Ms Dorries said she welcomed the chance to discuss the abortion limit on the floor of the House of Commons for the first time in 16 years.
Proposing her bill, the Tory MP said the evidence that babies are now conscious from 18 weeks was "compelling", and noted that many doctors had to carry out late abortions in two phases, first to kill the foetus and then remove it.
"Science has moved on, and so should the debate," she argued, adding: "We are morally obliged to reconsider the legality of late abortions."
At the moment, women could get an abortion within five days of seeing a doctor, something Ms Dorries said was "abortion on demand" and could lead to many women making their decision without properly thinking it through.
"The bill at least brings the debate into the open. It is wrong that it has been suppressed for 16 years. As I have said, it is not about a woman's right to choose, but a woman's right to know," she said.
However, Labour MP for Calder Valley Ms McCafferty rejected the bill as "ill-informed" and said it would force a small number of vulnerable women to continue pregnancies against their will and deny them the choice to decide in their own time.
The 1967 act legalising abortion was a "great gift of choice" to women, she said, but Ms Dorries' bill would discriminate against women, encourage confusion about their rights and allow some individuals the right "to impose their will and morality on others".
"Contrary to tabloid disinformation, no scientific breakthroughs have occurred to cause a reduction in the current limit. Restrictions on legal rights would leave some women in a desperate predicament," she argued.