MPs voted down a Conservative backbencher’s motion that sought to resurrect the abortion debate Wednesday, but 10 cabinet ministers were able to show their support for the motion, including Immigration Minister Jason Kenney and Status of Women Minister Rona Ambrose.

In a vote of 203 to 91, Motion 312 was defeated in the House of Commons Wednesday evening.

The private member’s bill was put forth by Kitchener Centre MP Stephen Woodworth.

In the months leading up to the vote, Woodworth argued that the motion was not an attempt to criminalize abortion procedures in Canada.

Instead, he insisted it was intended to strike a 12-member, all-party committee to study the definition of when a newborn can legally be considered a human being.

Currently the Criminal Code declares that a child is a human being when it emerges alive from the mother’s womb.

But in the 1988 ruling that confirmed abortion rights in Canada there was a note of the potential need to protect the unborn at some point during a pregnancy, argued Woodworth and his supporters.

During Wednesday’s vote, Prime Minister Stephen Harper kept good on his campaign promises not to re-open the abortion debate and voted against the motion. Harper had earlier called the motion “unfortunate.”

However, more than 80 Conservative MPs voted in favour of it.

Four Liberal MPs also voted in favour of the motion, while the NDP caucus opposed it.

Following the vote, Woodworth told reporters he hoped Canadians would continue to pressure MPs on the issue.

"I hope that people all across Canada will really take to heart, will be moved to advocate that we enshrine in Canadian law the inherent worth and dignity of every human being," Woodworth said.

Woodworth’s motion was largely seen by the opposition as a way for the Harper government to put the issue back into the spotlight.

"Mr. Harper can't have it both ways," said NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair. "He can't claim that he's against reopening the abortion debate and having a sitting minister vote in favour of reopening the abortion debate.

"The two just can't be squared."

NDP MP Niki Ashton said it was reprehensible to have Status of Women Minister Roma voting in favour of the motion.

"It's unacceptable. Stephen Harper told us his government wasn't willing to reopen the debate and you have the minister in charge of the status of women voting (in favour)," said Ashton.

"At what point do the Conservatives consider women's equality a priority?"

But Liberal leader Bob Rae said free votes on matters of conscience are a parliamentary tradition that should be respected.

“What we have achieved in Canada ... is, I think, a very powerful national consensus, and that is not unanimity but a consensus, and that is, that this is a matter that's better decided on an individual basis by a woman in consultation with whomever she chooses to consult," said Rae.

"I don't think that's going to change, I don't think tonight's vote is going to change that, I think it will be more of reflection of that consensus."

Appeasing the base

Earlier on Wednesday, CTV's chief parliamentary correspondent Craig Oliver said the motion is significant not so much for what it would do if passed, but for the fact it has already revived the conversation.

"This is going nowhere," Oliver told CTV's Canada AM Wednesday morning, explaining that Woodworth himself has acknowledged he will likely not be able to drum up enough support for it to pass a free vote in the House of Commons.

However, because the party whips were not out when the MPs voted, MPs were allowed to vote according to their conscience.

In that light, Oliver said the national conversation in the lead-up to the vote allowed the ruling Conservatives to appease one subset of their supporters without alienating others.

"There's particular pressure on the Conservative party who have more of these social conservatives who are-anti-abortion," Oliver said.

"This is a chance to let off some steam, take the pressure off."

On Monday, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, a devout Catholic, told reporters he supports a "respectful debate on this question" and disclosed that he will vote in favour of it.

The federal Green Party and the Liberals have also come out in opposition to the motion.

Oliver said at least two Liberal MPs and one NDP MP were expected to vote in favour of Woodworth's motion.

"There are people who regard themselves as people of conscience who have strong moral views about abortion," Oliver said.

Nevertheless, "there's not a chance that it will pass."

With files from The Canadian Press