The Catholic Church in England and Wales has said that a 30-minute TV documentary that was to show footage of an abortion "could prove a powerful anti-abortion message, highlighting the full horror."
My Foetus, which was due to be screened on Britain's Channel 4 on 20 April in a late night time-slot, showed a "vacuum-pump" abortion. The results of the three-minute "procedure", generally performed on pregnancies under 12 weeks gestation, are then placed on a petri dish. It is the first abortion to be shown on British television - or possibly on any other countries' TV networks.
Viewers of the program would also see pictures of foetuses aborted at 10 weeks, 11 weeks and 21 weeks, when limbs and a face can clearly be seen.
A spokeswoman for Channel 4 defended the program, saying it would bring the abortion debate "up to date".
Archbishop Peter Smith, who is the chairman of the Department of Christian Responsibility and Citizenship of the Catholic Bishops' Conference, said that "the truth of what is being done out of the public gaze is the true scandal of abortion" with 481 abortions on average being performed every day in England and Wales.
Julia Black, the producer of My Foetus, said that seeing the actual physical reality of abortion would help people fully confront the issue: "One in three women in Britain will have an abortion but we continue to shy away from the reality of the procedure.
"I think the pro-choice movement can no longer rely on just arguing abortion is a woman's right. They have to start engaging with the reality that a foetus is destroyed."
Sensitivity over the program - abortion being seen as one of the last taboos for the small screen - meant that it had to be passed by the channel's head of programs, Kevin Lygo. It was to be broadcast at 11 pm and preceded by warnings.
At the end of the program a helpline was offered to people who had been affected by the issue.
"I decided to include images of 10-, 11- and 21-week-old aborted foetuses in my film because, however shocking, repulsive and confrontational they are, they represent the reality", said Julia Black in a report in the London Observer.
"Aborted foetuses from 10 weeks on look like tiny babies. Rationally, we know abortion ends the life of a potential human being, but why, when we see what they look like, are we so shocked?"
Black, who herself had an abortion at 21, said she wanted to get out of the "lazy" debate about the issue and have an honest discussion. The pro-choice movement must know how difficult it is to fight back against the powerful image of what looks like a dead baby," she said. "So they have not engaged with these shock tactics."
Black is the daughter of the founder of the Marie Stopes Clinic, one of the leading pro-choice advice centres on abortion in the country. She said she wanted to challenge her own instinctive pro-choice view on abortion.
She now has a child born when she was 34. "After giving birth to my daughter I [knew] why it was important to make this film," she said. "I didn't want her, or her friends, years down the line to still have to feel it is something they couldn't talk about. I wanted to kick-start the debate and make society re-examine its views on abortion."
In the program, both pro-life and pro-choice protagonists were able to give their views on the issue.
Catholic press release
In a press release from the Catholic Communications Service on 5 April, Archbishop Peter Smith set out the Church's position on abortion and explained why it welcomed such a documentary:
"The Catholic Church is totally opposed to abortion. All human life, from the moment of conception to natural death, is sacred and inviolable, including that of an unborn child.
"Television images of an abortion, disturbing and repulsive as they undoubtedly would be, could prove a powerful anti-abortion message, highlighting the full horror of abortion.
"Everyone, especially women, has a right to know what abortion really involves. If the tide of public opinion were to be turned by these disturbing images, it would be for the common good.
"What Channel 4 plans to show in this program is the killing of one unborn child. But, tragically, abortion has become one of the most common surgical procedures performed in Britain.
"A recent report published by the Government's Office for National Statistics showed that almost one in four (23 per cent) of all pregnancies in Britain now ends in abortion. This shocking abortion figure rises to more than one in three (36 per cent) of pregnancies in women under 20. At the same time, the overall national birth rate is at an all-time low.
"These statistics are not just numbers on a page but a story of real lives lost. In 2002, the most recent year for which figures are available, there were 175,600 recorded abortions in England and Wales alone.
"Many more unborn lives will have been lost as a result of abortifacient birth control (the so-called morning-after pill), 'wastage' during IVF procedures, and embryo experimentation.
"Women often undergo abortions in the face of terrible pressure and even fear. They must be always treated with compassion and in no way condemned. Too often they have been sold the lie that abortion is an easy option, but how can a society such as ours call itself civilised when it sanctions the killing of the unborn?"
It is to be hoped that My Foetus is shown before long in Australia, as well as in other so-called civilised countries that permit abortion.