Abortion debate returns to Commons as Nadine Dorries wins ballot

Nadine Dorries Ms Dorries is a long-standing campaigner for a change to abortion law

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MPs will debate whether the abortion time limit should be cut, after an application from Tory MP Nadine Dorries was successful in a Commons ballot.

Ms Dorries is expected to make the case for a cut in the time limit from 24 weeks to 20 weeks.

The debate will take place on 31 October in the MPs' secondary debating chamber, Westminster Hall, which means it will not culminate in a vote.

The government says it has no plans to change the current rules on abortion.

Despite voting in 2008 for a cut in the abortion time limit to 12 weeks, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt emphasised it was "not government policy to change the limit".

The vote in favour of a reduction had been an expression of his personal opinion, he explained on BBC Radio 4's Today programme last week.

Start Quote

This is a very emotive issue, and those who were here in the last Parliament will know how emotive it can get”

End Quote Nadine Dorries Conservative MP for Mid Bedfordshire

But Ms Dorries has called on the government to reconsider.

"It is not right that in maternity wards across the country doctors are fighting to save the lives of premature babies born at 20 weeks while in the next room abortions are being performed up to 24 weeks," she said.

"The law at the moment is facilitating this tragic discrepancy and it is time MPs returned to the issue and made the much needed change."

For Labour, shadow public health minister Diane Abbott commented: "Reopening this debate is the last thing British women need right now.

"It's clear that no new evidence has come to light since this was last debated in 2008.

"A small number of very vulnerable women need the time limit to remain as it is, and I think the government should understand and respect that. The focus should be on reducing unwanted pregnancies, not reducing women's rights."

The forthcoming debate could be used as "a launching pad for the Tories' fresh attempt at turning back the clocks", she warned.

There is an element of chance in the allocation of subjects for debate in Westminster Hall.

'Mustering troops'

MPs apply to Commons Speaker John Bercow's office, and a ballot is held on Wednesday mornings to determine which of the applications have been successful.

A spokesman for the Speaker's office emphasised that the proposed subject matter had no bearing on this procedure.

On 16 October, Ms Dorries told a committee of MPs responsible for allocating business in the main chamber on some days each parliamentary session that she would be seeking a full Commons debate on abortion law in 2013, in addition to the Westminster Hall debate.

Only in the House of Commons can MPs declare their support for, or opposition to, a principle in a formal vote.

"I definitely want a vote. This is a very emotive issue, and those who were here in the last Parliament will know how emotive it can get," Ms Dorries told the committee.

"I am looking for a debate to take place probably in May or June next year, because that will give both the pro-life and pro-choice MPs time to muster their troops, prepare their arguments and prepare their debate.

"I am neither; I am actually right in the middle."

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