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Wednesday, 24 January, 2001, 11:06 GMT
Tories in abortion row
Dr Liam Fox
Dr Fox urged Tories to pray for the abolition of abortion
The Conservatives have found themselves embroiled in a row over abortion after shadow health secretary Liam Fox has called for a "huge restriction, if not abolition" of its provision.

I think it shows he is not fit to be health secretary

Ben Bradshaw
He is quoted in the Conservative Christian Fellowship prayerbook as saying the UK's "pro-abortion laws" should be scrapped.

The comments are seen as a latest attempt by the Tories to secure the religious vote but they have come under fire from MPs and pro-choice groups.

Dr Fox is the second member of the shadow cabinet to come out against abortion.

Two years ago, Ann Widdecombe, the then shadow health secretary, said she would be unable to keep the portfolio in any future Tory cabinet because she was against abortion.

Party line on abortion

The party's line on abortion has got tougher in recent years.

Last year, Conservative leader William Hague who says he is "anti-abortion, except in the case of rape" called for tougher abortion laws.

A number of senior Tory frontbenchers are understood to support the idea of a free vote if they win the election to reduce the time limit in which women can have abortions.

According to the Christian Fellowship booklet, Dr Fox has asked party members "to pray that there would be a huge restriction if not abolition of our pro-abortion laws".

Conservative Central Office refused to comment on Dr Fox's words saying that views on abortion were a "private matter".

Limit availability

But shadow cabinet office minister Andrew Lansley said the party would not adopt policies to limit the availability of abortion.

"As distinct from America, it is not a party political issue in this country, and we have no intention of making it so," he told BBC News.

"The way these matters are conducted in this country is that such issues are always treated as a free vote and individual members of parliament make a decision on the basis of their own individual views and consciences."

Asked if he shared Dr Fox's opposition to the current laws on abortion, Mr Lansley said: "I have not discussed it with Liam Fox.

"I don't know his views in detail and I suspect they may not be exactly the same."

Any sensible politician who is in touch with the public mood would reject this out of hand

BPAS spokeswoman
But Labour MP Ben Bradshaw, a member of the Commons Ecclesiastical Committee, criticised Dr Fox.

"I think it shows he is not fit to be health secretary and that the Tories are not fit for government."

A spokeswoman for the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) described Dr Fox's comments as "ludicrously out of touch".

She told BBC News Online: "The overwhelming majority of public opinion supports widely available legal abortion in circumstances that are more liberal than the law allows at the moment.

"I would think any sensible politician who is in touch with the public mood would reject this out of hand."

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See also:

20 Oct 99 | UK Politics
Short attacks anti-abortion campaigners
19 Jul 99 | UK Politics
MPs enter pro-life group row
03 Nov 98 | UK Politics
Government wins abortion vote
14 Jun 98 | UK Politics
Widdecombe rejects abortion role
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