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LONDON (Reuters Life!) - An advert offering abortion advisory services will be screened on British TV for the first time next week, provoking opposition from anti-abortionists and religious groups.
Sexual health services provider Marie Stopes International said its campaign, which uses the slogan "Are you late?," aims to confront the taboo of abortion by offering non-judgmental advice on unplanned pregnancies.
Nearly 216,000 abortions were carried out in Britain in 2008, but according to an opinion poll quoted by the not-for-profit Marie Stopes organization only 42 percent of adults know where to go for specialist advice on an unplanned pregnancy apart from to their local doctor.
"We hope the new "Are you late?' campaign will encourage people to talk about abortion more openly and honestly, and empower women to make confident, informed choices about their sexual health," said Marie Stopes CEO, Dana Hovig.
Its helpline took about 350,000 calls in Britain last year and the organization, which works in partnership with the state-funded National Health Service, performed about a third of all abortions carried out in England and Wales in 2009.
"Clearly there are hundreds of thousands of women who want and need sexual health information and advice, and access to services," Hovig added.
The advert, which features a woman running late, will be shown on commercial station Channel 4 on Monday and run through June.
It does not mention the word abortion, but directs women with unplanned pregnancies to the Marie Stopes' 24-hour helpline, offering post-conception advice and support.
The anti-abortion Society for the Protection of Unborn Children said the advert would trivialize abortion.
"Allowing abortion to be advertised on TV will lead to more unborn babies being killed and to more women and girls suffering the after-effects of abortion," said its communications manager Anthony Ozimic in a statement.
It was taking legal advice and called on the Secretary of State for Culture to intervene.
Non-commercial providers of post-conception advice services have long been permitted to advertise on British television.
The Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales said services which offer or refer for abortion, whether commercial or not-for-profit organizations, should not be allowed to advertise on broadcast media.
"Abortion is not a consumer service," the Bishops' Conference said.
The Christian Legal Center also questioned the adverts' legality.
"Members of the public will be enraged that such adverts are allowed to be beamed into their living rooms, especially as early as 10.10 p.m. when very many teenagers are around," said Andrea Minichiello-Williams, director of the center.
Britain's independent advertising regulator, the Advertising Standards Authority, said the advert had been cleared by the relevant body, and that it could only pass judgment on whether it was misleading or offensive after it had been aired.
Editing by Steve Addison