DEPUTY First Minister Nicola Sturgeon warned that cutting the 24-week abortion limit risked sending women "to the back streets".

Earlier a ministerial colleague said he would back a reduction.

The former Health Secretary – who is now responsible for infrastructure and the Scottish Government's independence campaign – spoke out after her successor, Alex Neil, said the present 24-week limit should be cut north of the Border.

Ms Sturgeon said: "On a personal basis, I'm not persuaded of the case for reducing the abortion time limit.

"A vast majority of abortions take place well before 20 weeks, there's a tiny proportion between 20 and 24 weeks.

"I don't believe there is evidence that backs up a reduction in the time limit. and, more importantly, I've never seen any evidence that reducing the time limit for abortion reduces abortions.

"What it does do, or what it risks doing, is sending abortions back to the back streets and making them less safe for women."

Earlier this month, Mr Neil said he favoured a reduction in the limit, without specifying an appropriate legal cut-off.

Legislation regulating abortion is reserved to Westminster but Mr Neil recently suggested that a vote for independence could lead to different limits in Scotland and England.

Jeremy Hunt, the UK Health Secretary, has also called for a rethink and wants to cut the limit from 24 weeks to 12 weeks, a period Mr Neil warned was unrealistic.

After furore which followed Mr Hunt's remarks, Prime Minister David Cameron has stressed the UK Government has no plans to change the limit.

Ms Sturgeon also said there was no Scottish Government plan to change the limit, either now or after a possible independence.

First Minister Alex Salmond has in the past backed a reduction in the abortion limit from 24 to 20 weeks.

He has also said he would back the creation of an independent commission to examine UK abortion laws.