Prime Minister Tony Abbott has slapped down senior frontbencher Eric Abetz for suggesting a link exists between abortion and breast cancer, while Liberal MPs rounded on the Employment Minister's comments labelling them as ''bullshit'' and backed the medical science.
Senator Abetz furiously backpedalled on Friday from his suggestion that: ''I think the studies, and I think they date back from the 1950s, assert that there is a link between abortion and breast cancer'', arguing he had been cut off during the TV interview and unable to acknowledge this was not the accepted medical view.
The comments came at the end of a torrid week for the Coalition in which Mr Abbott and Attorney-General George Brandis appeared to misunderstand their new metadata retention policy, the Treasurer Joe Hockey accused the media of being ''against him'' and in which the government dumped its election promise to repeal section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.
Despite a politically difficult week for the government, which also saw Mr Hockey dispatched across the country to meet Senate crossbenchers and make the case for his budget, senior Coalition sources said a pragmatic shift was under way at the heart of government.
They said compromise on key budget measures such as university fees and the $7 GP co-payment could happen and insisted a plan was in place but that ''we aren't broadcasting it''.
One minister said that ''commentary aside … the reality is that you work through these things and engage with people''.
Senator Eric Abetz. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Long-time Liberal Party pollster Mark Textor said Mr Abbott was moving to reclaim the political centre.
''What Australians are now seeing is the Prime Minister doing what he does best and staking his position in the ground. In this case, firmly in the centre,'' he said.
Mr Abbott on Friday said the so-called research referred to by Senator Abetz had ''long been discredited'', that he had spoken to the minister and ''I think he's a little sheepish about it. I don't think you'll find that kind of thing being said again.''
Health Minister Peter Dutton said it was ''obvious'' there was no link between abortion and breast cancer.
Liberal veteran Warren Entsch went further, stating Senator Abetz's comments had ''no basis in scientific fact''.
''From what I can see, he is arguing he was selectively reported, that he was referring to a particular doctor that made that connection, but he didn't necessarily endorse it. That's bullshit.''
The AMA, Cancer Australia and other health and medical authorities have rejected the link between abortion and breast cancer.
Dr Angela Lanfranchi claims it exists and will put the case at a World Congress of Families event in Melbourne, which Families Minister Kevin Andrews will open, while Senator Abetz will host a lunch for Dr Lanfranchi.