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UK abortion advert sparks Catholic criticism

By Melissa Gray, CNN
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UK's first TV abortion ad
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • UK non-profit group plans to air country's first TV ad for abortion services
  • Announcement by Marie Stopes draws criticism from Catholic groups
  • Group said adults ignorant about how to obtain advice about unplanned pregnancy
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London, England (CNN) -- A British non-profit group said Thursday it plans to air the country's first TV advertisement for abortion services, drawing criticism from at least one Catholic group.

The ad from Marie Stopes International, due to air Monday, directs women facing unplanned pregnancies to a 24-hour advice line run by the charity.

Marie Stopes said it created the commercial after research showed only 42 percent of adults in the United Kingdom would know where, other than their doctor, they could receive specialist advice about unplanned pregnancy.

In addition to advice, Marie Stopes provides sexual health services -- including abortion -- at clinics around the country.

"Last year alone, we received 350,000 calls to our 24-hour helpline," the charity's chief executive, Dana Hovig, said in a statement. "Clearly there are hundreds of thousands of women who want and need sexual health information and advice, and access to services."

The commercial will not air in Northern Ireland, where laws severely restrict abortion, said Channel 4, which plans to air the ad Monday night.

Commercial providers of post-conception advice are prohibited from advertising in British media, but charities and non-profit providers face no restrictions, said Matt Wilson of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), which enforces the advertising codes.

Revised rules due to come into effect in September would change that rule and allow advertising by all providers of post-conception advice, whether commercial or not, Wilson said. Those providers that do not include offer advice on abortion, however, would have to specify that in their ads, Wilson said.

In a statement Thursday, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales said it does not support advertising by any services that offer or provide referrals for abortion, whether they are commercial or not.

"Abortion is not a consumer service," it said in a statement. "To present it as such erodes respect for life and is highly misleading and damaging to women, who may feel pressured into making a quick decision which can never be revoked.

"Moreover, to allow the broadcasting (of) advertising of abortion-referral services is, in effect, to allow the exploitative promotion of these services and is not in the interests of the health or psychological well-being of women."

All commercials that air on British television are first cleared by a body called Clearcast, which decides whether they comply with advertising codes or require certain restrictions. The Marie Stopes commercial is scheduled to air at 10:10 p.m., a time chosen because most children will already be in bed, Clearcast said Thursday.

That the Marie Stopes ad was cleared for air does not mean it will avoid further controversy, said Wilson, of the ASA.

"Anything around that area (of abortion) is obviously a sensitive topic, so I think we may well receive complaints about it," he said.