SOUTHEND West MP David Amess says he has been "deluged" with letters from constituents, urging him to vote to make it harder for women to get abortions.

The Tory Roman Catholic MP, a well-known anti-abortion campaigner, has spoken of his shock at figures suggesting hundreds of premature babies were now surviving, despite being born early enough to have been legally aborted.

Department of Health statistics - released after Mr Amess asked a Parliamentary question - show 909 children were born between 22 and 24 weeks of pregnancy in 2005 and that 250 survived for at least a year.

Mr Amess said: "I am deeply shocked by this information and glad it is in the public domain.

"There is nothing more important than the sanctity of life.

"Now the public is much better informed and are better equipped to contribute to the debate in the coming weeks."

He expects the figures will be used to pressurise MPs to vote to make it illegal for abortions to be performed after the 20th week of pregnancy.

The current 24-week limit was agreed by MPs in 1990. Next month, MPs may vote on a proposals to lower the limit.

Mr Amess said: "I have been deluged with letters from constituents supporting the issue and I expect to speak in the Commons when the issue is debated."

The debate will be MPs' first full opportunity to vote on abortion since 1990.

All parties have given MPs a free vote on the new Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill and a close vote is expected on the time limit clause.

Figures for births in England and Wales given to Mr Amess indicate eight of the 152 children born after 22 weeks lived for at least a year.

At 23 weeks, 44 of 283 children survived and at 24 weeks, 198 of 474 babies survived.

Scientists are divided over campaigners' claims survival rates for babies born before 24 weeks have increased.