by Peter Stanford THE vote in the early hours of Wednesday morning to reduce the upper time limit on abortions to 24 weeks has dismayed pro-fife MPs who had hoped to achieve a cut to 22 or even TgWeekT.—Mid the Commons' decision to remove all time limits on certain special categories of abortion was bitterly attacked by the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children as "an appalling and barbaric decision" which would allow abortion up to birth.
There was a majority of 257 for the reduction to 24 weeks with 409 voting for and 152 against. Pro-life efforts to bring the time limit down further to 22 weeks were defeated by 46 votes and to 18 weeks by 210 votes. After the two and a half hour marathon voting session late on Tuesday which continued into the early hours of the following morning,
pro-life MPs accepted that the issue was effectively closed for the duration of this parliament.
Ann Widdecombe, Conservative MP for Maidstone, said that the antiabortion lobby had argued all along that the Commons should be allowed to vote on the question of where to set the time limit. That vote had now been taken, she accepted.
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Ms Widdecombe had been one of several pro-life MPs who had attempted to introduce private members legislation on abortion in earlier sessions of parliament, and had been prevented from seeing a vote on her bill by filibustering by her opponents. Wednesday morning's vote, part of the discussion of the Human Embryology and Fertilisation Bill, was in government time, and therefore not open to such delaying tactics.
Ms Widdecombe said after the vote that the pro-life lobby would now be examining the break-down of how MPs sided, and asking why the majority that had been claimed for a 22 week limit did not materialise.
David Alton, the Liberal Democrat MP for Liverpool Mossley Hill, described the Commons decision as "a purely cosmetic change". Although he said he felt that the issue of time limits would not come up again in this Parliament, Mr Alton stressed that the advance of science, which made it possible for younger and younger babies to be born alive, would eventually impel the Commons at some later date to review the legislation. —
Keith Davies, national campaigns officer with Life, said after the vote that his organisation was not prepared to let the abortion fight in parliament drop. "We will intensify, improve and increase our opposition to a morally bankrupt piece of legislation", he said,