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TV Abortion Footage Stirs Debate in Britain

Mon Apr 19, 2004

By Jason Hopps

LONDON (Reuters) - A British filmmaker behind what is being billed as the first pictures of an abortion ever shown on television defended her documentary on Monday as a powerful stimulus to moral debate.

"My Fetus," to be broadcast by Britain's Channel 4 on Tuesday, includes footage of an abortion being conducted on a woman who is four weeks pregnant, as well as images of aborted fetuses that are 10, 11 and 21 weeks old.

"It's still a subject that is taboo and not discussed openly and I wanted to kick-start debate by allowing both sides of the argument to actually look at what an abortion is," 34-year-old filmmaker Julia Black told Reuters.

"Abortion is a legal procedure in Britain and is the world's most common surgical procedure, so I thought we should look at the images and then carry on the debate." Channel 4 said it was sensitive to criticism that the program might offend and shock, but insisted it was about educating and feeding debate on an issue that has sparked strong emotions across Europe and the United States.

"The point is that abortion is an incredibly common procedure, but we don't see the images and we should have the debate with the full knowledge of what is involved," a spokeswoman said.

"We are not just broadcasting this footage gratuitously. A warning will be shown prior to the show and there will be a helpline after."

Between 1996 and 2000, an average of 170,000 abortions were carried out each year in England and Wales, according to the British Pregnancy Advisory Service.

An anti-abortion group that saw a preview of the program said it failed to give a complete picture.

"Nothing was mentioned of all the possible psychological or physical effects, some of them long-term, on women of having abortions at any stage," a spokeswoman from the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children said.

"Although some people from the anti-abortion side were featured, this was principally an attempt to make an abortion seem easy, normal, good...Her film could have addressed the humanity of the unborn child more successfully."

Black, who is pro-choice and had an abortion when she was 21, said both pro-choice and anti-abortion voices were generally in favor of the images being shown.

"Pro-life groups often use such images to promote their side of the debate, but this program is about letting viewers decide for themselves," she said.

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