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U.K. Parliament passes bill seeking to loosen restrictions on abortions

(Reuters/Cathal McNaughton)A pro-life campaigner holds up a model of a 12-week-old embryo during a protest outside the Marie Stopes clinic in Belfast October 18, 2012.

A bill that seeks to repeal existing abortion laws in the U.K. has passed its first stage following a debate in the House of Commons on Monday.

The legislation, proposed by Labour MP Diana Johnson, would remove existing restrictions on abortion and allow the procedure to be performed up to 28 weeks into pregnancy. The measure is supported by the British Pregnancy Abortion Service (BPAS), which provides abortions, according to Catholic Herald.

The House of Commons voted 174–142 in favor of the bill, despite opposition from Catholic charities and other MPs. The legislation known as Reproductive Health (Access to Terminations) Bill is expected to progress to its first reading on March 24.

According to Christian Today, relatively few of the full 650 MPs participated in the vote, and sources have suggested that the bill was not taken seriously.

Maria Caulfield, Conservative MP for Lewes, opposed the bill, saying it is a response to a "non-existent threat." She argued that the measure would "exacerbate the dangers posed by any increase in the availability of abortion pills."

"It would remove some of the few protections and regulations in abortion law – fuelling unethical and unsafe practices in many UK abortion clinics, and leaving women less safe and less informed," she added.

Caulfield also warned that the bill allows abortions beyond the 24-week limit that is currently in place as well as sex-selective abortions.

However, Johnson denied that it would remove the 24-week limit or deregulate abortions. She said that her proposal would allow professional medical bodies to oversee the practice.

Dr. Peter Saunders, chief executive of the Christian Medical Fellowship, argued that the decriminalization of abortion could lead to changes in how the procedure is conducted.

"It would mean abortion could be performed on any grounds at all up until 24 weeks, it would mean there would be no restrictions on where abortions could be performed, there wouldn't be a requirement for two doctors to agree," he told Premier.

Saunders asserted that Britain's abortion laws would be similar to those in China and Vietnam if Johnson's bill becomes law.

The measure was introduced under the Ten Minute Rule, where backbench MPs can raise a motion in a speech that does not exceed 10 minutes. Few bills introduced in this manner have been turned into law, with the exception of the Abortion Act 1967.

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