The Church of England has become embroiled in a row over whether it should publicly oppose Labour and Liberal Democrat plans to liberalise abortion laws.
More than 400 members of the clergy wrote an open letter to senior figures complaining that the political shift would see foetuses classed as "no longer human beings" worthy of legal protection.
The letter criticised bishops for not standing up for the church's official teaching on abortion - that terminating pregnancies in most cases is wrong as the unborn child has the potential to "develop relationships, think, pray, choose and love”.
It said members had "sincere concerns" about the proposals and called for them to "speak out...in defence of some of the most vulnerable in our society".
Among the signatories were vicars, chaplains and rectors.
Two leading bishops, the Rt Revds Christine Hardman and James Newcome, issued a statement in response, assuring them that the Church of England sees all abortions as "tragedies" and that it would "vigorously challenge any attempt to extend abortion provision beyond the current 24 week limit".
But they stopped short of criticising any political manifestos, adding: “As a general rule we would not comment on specifics of party manifestos in the midst of a General Election campaign, but as bishops and as Members of the House of Lords we are fully committed to engagement on this with parties, MPs and Peers when Parliament returns.
"Our prayers are for all those who might be affected by these decisions, and those who carry the heavy responsibility of framing legislation that is in the service of the most vulnerable in society."
Labour and the Liberal Democrats have both pledged to relax existing abortion legislation if they win the General Election on December 12.
Under the 1967 Abortion Act, women can legally seek a termination up to 24 weeks of pregnancy and must have the approval of two doctors. It is a criminal offence for a woman to breach these conditions in England and Wales.
The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), which provides advice on terminations, has previously said that the "current criminalisation of abortion in Britain fails women" and that "no woman should be threatened with prosecution for ending her own pregnancy".