A health minister has been accused of imposing her own personal beliefs on Government policy by deciding to ditch proposals to ban abortion clinics from offering advice to women seeking terminations.
Tory MP Nadine Dorries said it was a bizarre decision to scrap a consultation on plans which would prevent clinics run by Marie Stopes and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service from offering counselling to women at the same time as carrying out terminations.
Pro-life campaigners, including Ms Dorries, have argued that there is a conflict of interest as many pregnant women who seek advice from clinics go on to have abortions.
Instead, they argue, ministers should have rubber-stamped proposals forcing women to take advice from counselling services separate from the clinic they had chosen to carry out their abortion.
Following Wednesday's announcement by Health Minister Anna Soubry that the Government would no longer even contemplate the plans, Ms Dorries said: "This is quite bizarre. What Anna Soubry has said today doesn't improve services for women.
"The Government has decided that it is not the right decision, and what makes it even more bizarre is that the British Medical Association voted to support the consultation.
"This announcement comes down to Anna Soubry's very personal belief on abortion. She is as pro-choice as many Labour women MPs. Jeremy Hunt (the Health Secretary) believes in a 12-week limit but he is not trying to push his agenda on women because he acknowledges it is his personal belief. Anna Soubry has a personal belief. What she has done is try to impose her personal belief on her role and that is out of order."
During a debate in Westminster Hall earlier, Ms Soubry said she had decided to call off the consultation because the Government had no intention of changing the law, adding that if ministers were to plough on regardless it would be an "otiose exercise".
The minister added: "There is other work we should be doing on counselling. I take the view that this is not the primary function we should be addressing and that is why I have taken the decision that I have." Abortions are allowed in the UK under certain circumstances until an unborn baby has reached 24 weeks.
Ms Dorries said that the legal limit should be reduced to 20 weeks as it was possible to save a premature baby born at 22 or 23 weeks. It could not be right that doctors tried to save some babies while at the same time ending the lives of others, she said. She added that many voters wanted to see a change in the law and it could end up costing some MPs in marginal seats at the next general election if they continue to block reforms to the way abortions are carried out.