News that an advert for the morning-after pill will be screened on UK television for the first time tonight has outraged pro-life campaigners.
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The advertisement will be screened after 9pm on several channels, including ITV, Channel 4 and Sky.
The move comes just weeks after the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice launched a review proposing to allow abortion clinics to advertise on TV and radio for the first time, and for condom adverts to be shown pre-watershed.
The morning-after pill, produced by Bayer Schering Pharma and marketed under the trademark Levonelle One Step, can act to terminate a pregnancy in its earliest stages.
Bayer is nevertheless allowed to broadcast the advert because Levonelle One Step is not a prescription drug.
The advert will show a woman waking up next to a partner she has slept with, and then visiting a pharmacy to buy the morning-after pill.
A spokesman for abortion provider Marie Stopes International said: “Such adverts will educate women about what to do in this situation.”
But Dominica Roberts of the ProLife Alliance said: “We are absolutely outraged that without even waiting for the outcome of the Advertising Standards Code Review, Levonelle One Step will be promoted on evening TV, no doubt without even so much as a health warning, let alone an honest description of how the pill in question actually works.
“Young girls will be particularly susceptible to this advertising campaign, and it is foolish to imagine they do not watch TV after the 9pm watershed.”
Pro-life campaigners have argued that increased availability of the morning-after pill is a move towards abortion on demand.
It has also been blamed for encouraging promiscuity and irresponsible sexual behaviour, with a consequent risk of spreading sexually transmitted diseases.
A spokesman for Bayer said: “We believe TV advertising plays an important role in informing women about Levonelle One Step and how it can be obtained.”
Previous poster and magazine advertising campaigns for the morning-after pill have courted controversy.
A 2004 series of posters on the London Underground was withdrawn after Roman Catholics complained about its “Immaculate Contraception” slogan.
And last Christmas the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) ran a “sleazy” ad campaign encouraging women to stock up on the morning-after pill for casual sex over the festive period.
BPAS advised women to prepare for the closure of chemists over the Christmas holidays by keeping emergency contraception with their headache pills.
Ann Furedi of BPAS said: “It’s easy to get carried away, which is why we advise women to back up their birth control by keeping the morning-after pill at home.
“You don’t wait until you get a headache to buy your pain relief, why wait until you’ve risked pregnancy to get the morning-after pill?”