Free votes on abortion are ‘a myth’

By Charles Maggs

Nadine Dorries has hit out at the way successive governments have handled the abortion issue, suggesting parliament never really has a free vote on the issue. 

Abortion is traditionally treated as a matter of conscience and all previous votes to lower the limit – along with the 1967 Abortion Act which first legalised the practice – have not seen the whip system formally enforced. But the Conservative MP insisted the claim of a free vote on the issue did not stand up to scrutiny.

"It never is [a free vote]," she told

"The last one was softly whipped by Labour in 2008 – almost by a chain gang of female MPs hooking arms and stopping people going into the 'yes' lobby, so I think there's always an element of undercover whipping taking place."

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Several senior members of the government have spoken out in recent weeks in favour of a lower limit, including home secretary Theresa May and culture, media and sport secretary Maria Miller, who both want abortions carried out no later than 20-weeks into a pregnancy.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt went further, saying he would like to see the limit set at 12-weeks. But despite the pro-choice credentials of many senior figures in Cabinet, there are no plans to lower it.

Dorries suggested a vote in the Commons could create splits in the government, with David Cameron and George Osborne "in two completely different places" on the issue. The prime minister is said to favour a 20-week limit while the chancellor supports the status quo.

Dorries' proposal to have the upper limit on abortions lowered from 24-weeks to 20 has been put to the backbench business committee and will be subject to a Westminster Hall debate next Wednesday.