The Bishop of Bradford, whose granddaughter was born before 24 weeks, has said MPs made a mistake by not voting to reduce the time limit a woman can have an abortion.

MPs on Tuesday threw out the first attempts for nearly 20 years to cut the 24-week time limit for abortions after a stormy debate.

Despite fierce lobbying by church leaders, they rejected an amendment to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill to cut the limit to 22 weeks by 304 votes to 233, a majority of 71.

Today Bradford's Bishop and the Bishop of Leeds both expressed their disappointment, saying 24 weeks was too late.

The Bishop of Bradford, the Right Reverend David James, said: "I believe that to allow abortions up to 24 weeks is too late. My own granddaughter was born just before then and there are babies I believe who survive from 22 weeks.

"Therefore it would seem common sense that if you are going to have any limit at all, and surely we should, then it should be lowered by at least two - and probably four - weeks. Sadly, I believe the House of Commons has made a mistake."

The Right Reverend Arthur Roche, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Leeds whose diocese includes Bradford, said the result was a severe disappointment to many.

He said: "Abortion is not just an issue for those individuals directly involved, but for us all as a society.

"Within hospitals throughout the country medical teams do all they can to ensure the maturation and successful care of babies born prematurely, while in another part of the hospital babies of the same age are being aborted.

"In my book a society which does not protect the weakest within it is a society that is breaking down."

Campaigners for a reduction in the time limit had warned Britain was in danger of becoming the "abortion capital of the world", with 201,000 terminations in 2006.

Some MPs argued that pictures of thumb-sucking foetuses appearing to "walk" in the womb had swung public opinion against late abortions.

Supporters of the limit said a cut to 20 weeks would have little effect on the abortion total, because fewer than 3,000 take place after that point. About 90 per cent are carried out in the first 13 weeks.

A recent survey of women of child-bearing age revealed 61 per cent think a woman should be able to have an abortion between 20 and 24 weeks in some circumstances.

Sixty one per cent of British women of child bearing age say a woman should have the right to access an abortion between 20 and 24 weeks in some circumstances, including severe foetal abnormalities, rape and domestic abuse.