A motion to study the Criminal Code's definition of when human life begins was defeated in the House of Commons Wednesday night.

Members of Parliament voted 203 to 91 against Motion 312, sponsored by Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth.

The private member's motion sought to set up a committee to study how the Criminal Code defines when life begins. The provision, in the homicide section of the code, says a child becomes a human being when it has fully left its mother's body.

Although Prime Minister Stephen Harper had opposed the motion and voted against it, some members of his cabinet voted in favour. Those included Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, Public Works and Status of Women Minister Rona Ambrose, government House leader Peter Van Loan, International Co-operation Minister Julian Fantino, Trade Minister Ed Fast, Intergovernmental Affairs Peter Penashue, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, and National Revenue Minister Gail Shea.

Liberal MPs John McKay, Lawrence MacAulay, Kevin Lamoureux and Jim Karygiannis also supported the motion.

Labour Minister Lisa Raitt said she voted the way her constituents knew she would, against the motion.

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Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth brought forward the motion to order a study on when human life begins. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

"It's time to move on," she said. "My constituents knew that this was something the government would not be opening up."

Critics said the motion was an excuse to reopen the debate on abortion in Canada and set limits on the procedure. Woodworth had said he hoped having a debate would convince Canadians to oppose abortion.

After the vote, Woodworth said he thought some of his colleagues voted against the motion out of respect for Harper.

"I'm a great believer in democracy … and ultimately the House of Commons will respond," Woodworth said.

Woodworth said last week that he didn't expect the motion to pass. The Conservatives, NDP and Liberals treated it as a free vote, meaning MPs were not told how to vote on the motion.

The NDP accused the government of using a private member's motion to push an agenda it's afraid to tackle more officially.

Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae said the House reflected the will of Canadians that the issue is closed.

But Rae said that Ambrose's vote in favour of the motion reflects the divide within the Conservative caucus over abortion.

Woodworth said he was "grateful to [Ambrose] for reflecting the desire I have on this issue."

Read a recap of the live blog below - mobile users read it here.

With files from CBC News