Page last updated at 11:58 GMT, Sunday, 18 May 2008 12:58 UK

Abortion result 'unpredictable'

Dawn Primarolo discusses the abortion time limit and stem cell research

A health minister has said she cannot predict the result of the Commons vote on cutting the 24-week abortion limit.

Dawn Primarolo told the BBC that she would support the "status quo" and claimed there was no new medical evidence that the limit should be cut.

Nadine Dorries MP wants the cut to send a "less casual message" about abortion, and also argues that babies born at 24 weeks are increasingly surviving.

MPs are expected to debate and vote on a 20-week limit on Tuesday.

Ms Primarolo told the Andrew Marr Show: "I think that there is still a very intense debate and those who are seeking to move the (limit) from 24 weeks have not made the case in terms of either women's rights or on what the medical profession is advising us on what is possible.

"I hope that the House agrees that the decision they made last time when they considered time limits was the correct one, and there will be no change from 24 weeks."

'Common sense'

Labour leader Gordon Brown said last week that he supports the 24-week limit, while Conservative leader David Cameron has said he favours a cut.

But MPs do not divide along party lines as the issue of abortion is treated as a "conscience" one in Parliament, meaning MPs are not told how to vote by their party leadership.

That in turn makes it more difficult to predict how the votes will go on Tuesday.

Nadine Dorries, who has tabled an amendment to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill lowering the upper limit, said Britain risked becoming Europe's abortion capital.

Ms Dorries launched her amendment last week saying: "Britain has 200,000 abortions a year, or 600 a day. That is just too many, we must slow down on abortion."

The Tory MP said she respected "a woman's right to choose" but added: "It is now time to adopt a more moderate, commonsense approach to abortion."

She argues that increasingly babies born at 24 weeks are surviving.

But Lib Dem MP Evan Harris, a former hospital doctor, has said that "the best research, which looks at every birth rather than a selected sample ... failed to show any reduction since 1995 in the threshold of viability below 24 weeks".

Health Secretary Alan Johnson said "as an individual", he did not want to see the law changed and believed the original legislation had "stood the test of time".


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