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David Cameron is facing demands to reopen the debate on Britain's abortion laws after Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt called for the current time limit to be halved to 12 weeks.
Tory MPs opposed to the current 24-week term limit seized on Mr Hunt's remarks to signal the start of a new push in Parliament to tighten the existing law.
But the move horrified women's rights activists who warned that such a drastic reduction could effectively prevent testing for conditions such as Down's syndrome.
The Prime Minister said the Government had no plans to legislate, although he hinted ministers would not stand in the way of MPs attempting to introduce a backbench Bill in the Commons.
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper, who speaks for Labour on women's issues, described Mr Hunt's remarks as "chilling".
Darinka Aleksic, campaign co-ordinator at Abortion Rights, said:
David Cameron said he did not agree with Mr Hunt's position, but added that he was entitled to his opinion. Speaking ahead of the Conservative party conference the Prime Minister added that he was in favour of a smaller decrease in the abortion limit:
A prominent gynaecologist and women's rights campaigner has warned that reducing the time limit on abortions from 24 weeks could effectively prevent testing for conditions such as Down's syndrome.
Professor Wendy Savage expressed alarm at Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt's comments that he supports halving the limit to 12 weeks.
"The number of abortions that take place over 20 weeks is very small. Of those a considerable proportion are of foetuses which have got a congenital abnormality," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
"I think the majority of the population think that if somebody has got a foetus that, if born, will have a severe disability they should have the right to choose whether or not to continue with that pregnancy."
Tory backbencher Daniel Kawcynski has welcomed Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt's support for reducing the time limit after pregnancy for abortions.
The MP for Shrewsbury and Atcham told BBC Radio 4's Today programme:
Home Secretary Theresa May told ITV News she believes a reduction of the abortion limit to 20 weeks from pregnancy, instead of the current 24 weeks, would be "right".
The Shadow Home Secretary has said that Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has a responsibility to lead policy for the Government after he revealed he believes the limit for legal abortions should be dropped to twelve weeks:
Latest ITV News reports
David Cameron was last night facing demands to reopen the debate on Britain's abortion laws.