A NEW pro-life coalition has been set up to fight what is claims is a “proposed extension” to abortion time limits in Scotland – even though there are no plans to change the law when powers are devolved north of the border.

The group of anti-abortion campaigners and religious representatives has stated it intends to spearhead a campaign “against proposals to extend abortion time limits” when the powers are transferred.

However the Scottish Government has repeatedly insisted it does not have any plans to change the current laws on abortion, which allows for terminations up to 24 weeks.

When quizzed over the aims of the group, John Deighan, co-ordinator of the new “Don’t Stop a Beating Heart” campaign admitted no political proposals existed – but said it was about countering “voices within civic society” who wanted to move in that direction.

One organisation involved in the campaign has stated it is designed to “counter the social acceptance of abortion”.

Pro-abortion rights campaigners have questioned the stated aim of the new group and raised concerns it will be used an excuse to argue against legal and safe abortions for women.

The coalition includes the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) Scotland, the Catholic Church in Scotland, the Free Church of Scotland, the Scottish Muslim Council, the Abortion Recovery Care and Helpline (ARCH), Christian Action Research and Education (CARE) Scotland, and Cardinal Winning’s Pro-life initiative, launched before the churchman's death in 2001.

Deighan, who is chief executive of SPUC Scotland, admitted there were no plans in place by politicians for extension of abortion time limits.

He added: “You don’t have to be a politician to propose things – it is not a political proposal but within society there are voices calling for a liberalisation.

“There are voices within civic society who want to seek that direction and our voice is to counter that really.”

He claimed evidence of this could be seen in recent articles where pro-choice campaigners have said there could be an opportunity for “progressive change” around abortion law.

But Ann Henderson, of Abortion Rights Committee Scotland, said their concern centred around supporting legal, safe access to abortion as provided for under the 1967 Abortion Act, which permitted terminations to be carried out under medical supervision.

She said: “This is a group of organisations which has consistently argued against legal safe abortion for women. This is not a debate about time limits - and that is what is concerning me the most.

“I think there will and there should be discussions developing about what have we learned, what can we do better 50 years on from the 1967 (Abortion) Act. That is a different conversation and we will have that conversation.

“Those organisations involved in this Beating Heart campaign have no interest in that discussion.”

In the press release launching the campaign, Deighan claimed there was a “clamour for further extension of the existing excessively liberal law”, which could lead to abortion being legalised “from the existing 24 week limit, in most cases, up until the point of birth”.

However earlier this year a report found women in Scotland already face major barriers in seeking a later abortion, with abortion provision after 18 weeks subject to “significant limitations”.

Official statistics show nearly 80% of all abortions were performed at less than 10 weeks in 2013 in Scotland, and just 0.5% performed at 18 weeks or more.

Henderson also pointed out abortion is already legal in the UK after 24 weeks in specific circumstances, such as to save the mother’s life or if there is serious foetal abnormality.

She added: “People have to take really awful difficult decisions. It is not for people who don’t understand the choice those families have had to make to pass judgement on them."

The members of the new pro-life coalition include Dr Gordon Macdonald, of CARE Scotland, who said: “Our campaign is designed to counter the social acceptance of abortion.”

Reverend David Robertson, moderator of the Free Church of Scotland, who is also backing the campaign, said: “As we approach 50 years of the disastrous Abortion Act of 1967 we have seen a degradation of life and a war on the disabled in the womb, where a diagnosis of Down’s syndrome or spina bifida is very often a death sentence.”

Henderson said: “If abortion law is devolved, which it looks like it will be, I think it is likely there will be a series of negative moves - similar to the way the American anti-abortion organisations are now working - to chip away at little bits and pieces.

“The language being used in the Beating Heart campaign is not going to be helpful.”

Scottish Secretary David Mundell announced last October that responsibility over abortion will be devolved as an amendment to the Scotland Bill.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Scottish Government has no plans to change the law on abortion, including any extension to the time limits, and the provision of abortion services in NHS Scotland is already devolved.

“Abortion is provided to all women in Scotland who require it within the legal limits. We are working to improve access to abortion for all women, in line with legislation, and will continue to do so. The vast majority of terminations take place before nine weeks.”