THE UK Government is preparing to announce the devolution of abortion law to the Scottish Parliament in the next few days.

Senior Whitehall sources said that, given the “number of sensitivities” surrounding the issue, the announcement will be presented jointly by the governments in London and Edinburgh.

The move, which is expected to come ahead of other announced amendments to the Scotland Bill after the House of Commons returns next week following its party conference recess, is likely to prove controversial.

It will trigger renewed opposition from charities and women's groups, which have warned that it could lead to a cross-border trade in terminations. The legal time limit is, at present, 24 weeks in most cases.

During the post-referendum Smith Commission talks on more powers for Holyrood, abortion was one of the most explosive issues considered.

At one point, the negotiations almost collapsed after abortion became a "red line" for Labour. Harriet Harman, the then deputy leader, was said to have gone “ballistic” when she heard of the proposal to devolve abortion law to Edinburgh.

In the end, the Smith Agreement said that "further serious consideration should be given to its devolution and a process should be established immediately to consider the matter further".

Over summer, talks went on between senior ministers and officials at Westminster and Holyrood. One UK Government insider, with close knowledge of the inter-governmental discussions, said: “We have discussed devolving abortion law extensively. There are a number of sensitivities around the issue and we’ve been talking with Edinburgh about how best to deal with them.

“Nicola Sturgeon has been clear she does not want to change the policy on the time limit. We need to give assurances about that. The decision to devolve will be made in due courscottish pase.”

He added: “The Smith Commission acknowledged there were sensitivities around this issue and it had to be handled carefully, which is what we have been doing. The announcement will be done in a co-ordinated way.”

The senior source pointed out that there was one more session for the Scotland Bill in the Commons before the end of this month; Report Stage and Third Reading. The Conservative Government is mindful that any proposed new changes, such as devolving abortion law to Holyrood, will have to be debated then and before the legislation moves to the House of Lords, where the SNP, which has 55 out of Scotland’s 59 MPs, has no representation.

While both administrations have made clear their support for devolving abortion law to the Scottish Parliament, Labour have been more sceptical. Over summer, its MSP Jackie Baillie, noted: " Women's organisations, trade unions and human rights groups are clear that devolving abortion law could put a woman's right to choose at risk. Abortion law should be based on evidence, not lines on a map."

Organisations such as Amnesty International, the Human Rights Consortium Scotland and Scottish Women's Aid signed a statement to MPs raising fears that devolution of abortion could lead to different laws north of the Border.

It said: "Our concern is that this strategy of hasty devolution is being used in order to argue for regressive measures and, in turn, a differential and discriminatory impact on women and girls in Scotland. Women across the UK have fought for women's bodies to be their own and to this day fight opposition to a women's right to choose."

Last month, the First Minister stressed that the SNP Government had no plans to change the 24-week time-limit for abortion, should law-making powers governing it be transferred from London to Edinburgh.

Stressing how her administration believed abortion law should be devolved to "bring it into line with almost all other health matters", Ms Sturgeon also told MSPs: “Let me be clear: the Scottish Government's position on abortion law remains unchanged. We have no plans to change the law on abortion."