British lawmakers have voted to keep the time limit for abortions at 24 weeks after an emotionally charged parliamentary debate.
Following the first major debate on the issue for nearly 20 years, lawmakers in the House of Commons on Tuesday voted against a series of proposals to cut the time limit at which a woman can have a termination to either 22, 20, 16 or 12 weeks.
On the key proposal of cutting the time limit to 22 weeks, 304 lawmakers voted against with 233 in favour.
Britain has one of the highest abortion rates -- and latest cut-off dates for the procedure -- in the European Union. In 2006, 193,700 abortions were performed on women living in England and Wales, according to official figures.
Supporters of lowering the time limit argued that survival rates of premature babies have increased thanks to advances in medical science.
Nadine Dorries, a lawmaker from the main opposition Conservatives and a former nurse, led the campaign to reduce the limit to 20 weeks.
She gave a graphic account of how she had witnessed a "botched abortion which became a live birth".
"I knew at that moment while I stood with that little boy in my arms that one day I would have the opportunity to stand and defend babies like him because what I thought we were committing that day was murder," Dorries said.
But health minister Dawn Primarolo, backing the status quo, argued there was no evidence that a change was needed and warned reducing the limit could force the small number of women who seek late abortions to seek dangerous alternative arrangements.
The time limit "has always been linked to the potential viability of the foetus outside the womb," she said.
"That was the case in 1967. It was the case in 1990 (the last time the issue was debated) and certainly the case now."
Parliamentarians had a free vote on the measures, meaning they did not have to follow a party line and could follow their consciences.
Cabinet ministers Ruth Kelly, Des Browne and Paul Murphy, who are Catholics, voted for cutting the limit to 12 weeks.
But the British Medical Association, the professional body representing doctors, and other medical groups strongly backed keeping the abortion limit at 24 weeks.
Dorries and her supporters vowed to keep the issue in the spotlight in the coming months.
As The Times newspaper noted Wednesday: "The anti-abortion campaigners will not go away.
"A hard core of 80 or so MPs voted for every restriction that was on offer last night. They are clearly uneasy about how the current system is working."
The vote came after the House of Commons backed by a clear margin Monday the creation of hybrid animal-human embryos, which can supply stem cells for medical research into conditions like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.
Lawmakers rejected a bid to outlaw "saviour siblings" -- children created as a genetic match for a sick brother or sister so that their genetic material can be used to treat them.
And earlier Tuesday, they voted to support giving lesbians easier access to in vitro fertilisation (IVF), by rejecting an amendment which would have forced doctors to consider a child's need for a father when offering fertility treatment.
All the issues were being debated as part of the government's wide-ranging Human Embryology and Fertilisation Bill.
The bill will also still have to be approved by the unelected upper chamber, the House of Lords.