The British parliament Tuesday rejected legislation to have the 24-week legal limit on the termination of pregnancy reduced in England, Wales and Scotland. From London, Tendai Maphosa has more in this report for VOA.

The 24-week limit has been in force since 1990. Those against a lowering of the limit to 20 weeks or even less argue there is no evidence to show a fetus born before 24 weeks now has a better chance of surviving.

Health Minister Dawn Primarolo who - like Prime Minister Gordon Brown - was for maintaining the 24-week limit addressed parliament before the vote.

"In the upper gestational limit was set by parliament in 1990 at 24 weeks because the scientific evidence at the time was that the threshold of viability had increased and babies were increasingly surviving at 24 weeks and above," said Dawn Primarolo. "I make this point to make it clear to the house that the upper gestational limit for abortions has always, always, been linked to the potential viability of the fetus outside the womb."

But pro-life member of parliament, Ann Widdecombe of the opposition Conservative party, was not swayed by the minister.

"Since 1990 there has been a very substantial body of evidence and I do mean evidence about fetal pain and fetal distress and if the child who is being aborted cannot live what on earth is the point of the lethal injection," said Ann Widdecombe.

But after a spirited debate during which abortion was described by some MPs as "barbaric" and the sign of "a throwaway society" those who want to keep things as they are prevailed. The vote was welcomed with relief by the pro-choice lobby which said the amendment, if passed, would have turned the clock back for women.

Tony Carridge, a spokesman for the non-profit health group, Marie Stopes International, welcomed parliament's decision.

"We are delighted that members of parliament have voted by a majority to retain the 24 week limit," said Tony Carridge. "In doing so they have cast a vote that will protect women's rights to access this service."

The law also allows for termination of a pregnancy if a mother's life is at risk or in the case of severe fetal abnormality. Abortion is still illegal in Northern Ireland, the fourth territory that makes up Britain.

Earlier Tuesday, the parliament adopted an amendment to remove the need for a father when women seek fertility treatment. The vote is expected to make it easier for lesbian couples or single women to get access to the treatment.