By Ian Dunt
The government has invited an anti-abortion group to sit on its advisory panel for sexual health, in a move likely to enrage women's rights campaigners.
The Life organisation, which also promotes abstinence-based sexual education, is replacing the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), which has been providing pregnancy counselling for 40 years, on the Independent Advisory Group on Sexual Health and HIV.
"To provide balance, it is important that a wide range of interests and views are represented on the forum," a Department of Health spokesperson said.
"Marie Stopes International and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service have similar interests. We offered them shared membership but they declined, and after careful consideration we concluded that it was not feasible to invite both organisations."
BPAS insists the department withdrew the 'shared membership' offer.
The move is likely to enrage Lib Dems, with former MP Evan Harris already breaking ranks over the decision.
"Seems the Tories in government are conceding pro-life groups a place at the table," he tweeted earlier.
Stuart Cowie, Life's head of education, said: "We are delighted to be invited into the group, representing views that have not always been around on similar tables in the past."
Ann Furedi, chief executive of BPAS, said she was "disappointed and troubled" by the decision.
"We find it puzzling that the Department of Health would want a group that is opposed to abortion and provides no sexual health services on its sexual health forum," she added.
Life will join organisations such as the Terrence Higgins Trust, Brook, the Family Planning Association and the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Health at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists on the forum.