Pressure is building on MPs over whether or not to cut the legal time limit for abortion

It is expected MPs will get a vote on cutting the 24-week limit – possibly to 20 weeks – in an amendment to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill.

It would be the first time politicians have had a chance to vote on the issue since 1990. And the prospect has prompted campaigners on both sides of the debate to start lobbying MPs.

A parliamentary campaign, involving celebrities and MPs, is being launched to keep the limit at 24 weeks. It comes after suggestions MPs will table amendments to the bill when it is next before parliament, probably at the end of May.

The 20-week amendment is likely to be tabled by Tory Nadine Dorries(*), a former nurse, although there is talk of a second amendment being tabled proposing an even lower limit.

They are being supported by Alive and Kicking, an umbrella group of pro-life organisations. Julia Millington, the group’s spokeswoman, said they wanted to see the time limit reduced to as low as possible.

“We will support any amendments to the bill which will help us reach our short-term objective of halving the number of abortions in this country.”

However, a cross-party group of MPs is seeking to safeguard the current arrangements. They have received support from celebrities such as comedian Jo Brand.

Lib Dem MP Dr Evan Harris, a former hospital doctor, said: “The medical community is clear that there is no medical or scientific basis for any reduction in the current time limit.”

Leading medical organisations, including the British Medical Association and Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, have come out in favour of the 24-week limit, pointing out there has been no significant improvements in survival before 24 weeks.

The recent Epicure 2 study, a major review of all live very early births in 2006, confirms this, although it said there had been improvements in the 24 to 25-week period in the last 10 years. Of those that are born at 23 weeks, 40% will die in the labour ward, the study found.

Pro-choice MPs are also expected to put forward a proposal to relax abortion laws by scrapping the need for two doctors to agree to a termination and allowing nurses to carry them out in the early stages.

MPs will be given a free vote on any abortion-related amendments.

(*) Thatcherite from Anfield to lead abortion battle
Nadine Dorries is the girl from the Liverpool council estate in Anfield who grew up to be a Conservative MP and a lone Scouse voice in a party still dominated by Old Etonians.

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