An amendment to put abortion law reforms to a public referendum has been voted down in Parliament.

But "safe zones", which were axed last week in a voting mix-up, could be put back into the Abortion Legislation Bill when it comes up for its third reading - expected to be this afternoon.

The attempt to put the issue to a referendum was shot down in a conscience vote during the bill's committee stage this morning by 100 votes to 19 votes.

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NZ First had been supporting the bill, introduced by Justice Minister Andrew Little, on the basis that it would go to a referendum.

The Herald understands that most NZ First MPs - except for Jenny Marcroft and Tracey Martin - will now oppose the bill, but it will still likely pass its third reading given it passed 81 to 39 votes in its second reading.

The rest of the caucus will likely vote against it.

Meanwhile, Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson will attempt to reinstate the "safe zones" in the bill at the start of the third reading.

The 150m protest-free areas around abortion clinics were designed to protect women from harassment, intimidation and attempts to breach their medical privacy.

But they were axed last week after MPs supporting them failed to call for individual votes to be counted.

Little had previously been reluctant to recommit safe zones to the bill as he was unsure it would have the numbers to pass.

The polarising bill removes abortion from the Crimes Act and drops any legal test for having the procedure earlier than 20 weeks, leaving the decision up to the woman and her doctor.

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The current legal test is for two doctors to approve an abortion only if there was "serious danger" to the woman's physical or mental health.

And for an abortion to take place after 20 weeks, it can only be approved if deemed necessary to save the woman's life or prevent serious injury.