OTTAWA - A Conservative senator with a tongue like a sailor shocked aid groups Monday, warning them to keep quiet about the Harper government's foreign-policy position on abortion or face possible retribution.

Senator Nancy Ruth dropped the F-bomb as she advised about 80 representatives of non-governmental groups to stop criticizing the Tories.

"Senator Ruth just advised the NGOs to 'shut the f--k up' and let the maternal-health issue play itself out," Kelly Crichton, who represents the group At the Table, said in an email.

The Harper government is facing heavy criticism at home and abroad for insisting that it will not fund abortion as part of its centrepiece child- and maternal-health initiative at the G8 Summit in Huntsville, Ont., next month.

Many NGOs say Harper is bending to religious fundamentalists and they worry they government will cut off their funding if they complain publicly.

Ruth's comments -- which were caught on tape by the Toronto Star -- only added to that concern.

According to the Star, her remarks were meant as friendly advice, but they were met with gasps of disbelief and even anger from some of the present.

"We've got five weeks or whatever left until G8 starts," Ruth said.

"Shut the fuck up on this issue ... If you push it, there will be more backlash. This is now a political football. This is not about women's health in this country."

Ruth didn't respond to a request for comment from The Canadian Press.

She was appointed to the Senate in 2005 by then-prime minister Paul Martin.