Senior Labour figures including shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper and shadow public health minister Diane Abbott have strongly criticised Jeremy Hunt over his support for lowering the abortion limit to 12 weeks.
In an interview with The Times, Hunt said: “Everyone looks at the evidence and comes to a view about when they think that moment is, and my own view is that 12 weeks is the right point for it... It’s just my view about that incredibly difficult question about the moment that we should deem life to start. I don’t think the reason I have that view is for religious reasons.”
Hunt's comments, made in his first major newspaper interview since taking over as health secretary, were described as "chilling" by Cooper.
"Jeremy Hunt's statements on abortion are deeply worrying and show the Health Secretary has given no serious consideration to women's health," she said.
Blogging for the Huffington Post UK on Saturday, Abbott, an outspoken MP on women's health, claims Hunt's motivation for the comments are political, rather than medical.
"Hunt must realise that he cannot, in practise, bring the time limit down to 12 weeks," Abbott writes.
She adds: "But he must calculate that it all creates pressure to bring down time limits at least as far as 20. He must also know the kudos it will bring him in right wing Tory circles by being seen to lead that fight."
Abbott also criticised Hunt's fellow Tory ministers, Maria Miller and Theresa May, who joined Hunt in expressing their beliefs in lowering the abortion limit, writing: "Their opinions on the time limits for abortions obviously have no basis in medical fact."
"The people best placed to know whether there is any scientific case for lowering time limits are doctors, specifically doctors that specialise in women and childbirth."
The furore comes only days before the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham.
"The timing is the clue. Miller, Hunt, May et al have all chosen to talk about women's reproductive rights on the eve of Tory Party conference," writes Abbott.
"This is about politics not medicine. These statements are a deliberate attempt to appeal to that wing of the Tory right which is obsessed with rolling back women's rights over their own bodies."