London (CNSNews.com) - Alarmed that women looking for abortion information on the Internet tend to come up with pro-life sites - some containing disturbing images - one of Britain's largest abortion agencies has launched an Internet "gateway" to overcome the problem.
But pro-lifers say the campaign shows that they have truth on their side, that women may reconsider when faced with the reality of what they are considering doing to their unborn children.
Marie Stopes International says its research shows many women looking for "non-judgmental" information about abortion on the World Wide Web instead end up with inaccurate information and shocking pictures of abortions.
"To protect vulnerable women from the worst excesses of anti-abortion websites," MSI said, it has set up a "safe abortion internet gateway" at abortion-help.co.uk, which it hopes will attract more search hits.
"There are sites out there that purport to be offering non-judgmental advice and once you get into them you're confronted with these fairly difficult images, a lot of which ... are manufactured," MSI spokesman Tony Kerridge explained.
In Britain, he said, pro-life organizations - "for whatever reason, I don't know how" -tend to appear higher up the list of sites offered by Internet search engines.
"If women type in keywords [in a search engine like Yahoo!], they tend to get a list that will have anti-abortion organizations before pro-choice organizations.
"A lot of women were deterred from exploring the Internet further because they came up against that kind of blank wall - that was the general thrust that came back from the qualitative research we did."
MSI is advertising the new site address, he said, and "looking into ways of getting our name further up the list on search engines and on more search engines so that we're more prominent."
Kerridge accused some pro-life sites of using deceptive methods.
One anti-abortion group, he said, had set up a site using the name of a pro-abortion organization, but with the suffix .org rather than .com, in a deliberate attempt to mislead.
"People were genuinely typing in what they thought was [the name of] a genuine site that would give non-directive advice and the first thing they saw was this graphic imagery.
"There are people out there who aren't that confident with the Internet, and it's unfair that they should be confronted with that. They're going in for some information to help them make a decision, and they come across particularly nasty materials, almost pornographic stuff."
Some sites, Kerridge charged, used graphics that had been "doctored" with special software or blatantly untrue captions.
Pictures purporting to be "aborted fetuses" were actually stillborn babies. "They'll present a 20-week fetus as an eight-week fetus, for example. They're playing mind-games. We've even seen things that have obviously been doctored. They'll go to pretty much any lengths."
Kerridge also accused some pro-life groups of "misinformation."
Asked for an example, he said they were "forever banging on about what they call post-abortion trauma syndrome." Yet MSI offers women free post-abortion counseling, he said, and "I think less than two percent take it up."
"Most women, their immediate response to having a termination is relief - they've solved the problem, they couldn't contemplate having a baby at that particular point in their lives."
In the FAQ (frequently-asked questions) section of the new abortion site, the question "How will I feel afterwards?" gets the answer: "Very few women experience feelings of extreme guilt or depression after abortion. Initially, most of our clients report feelings of relief, bit it is not uncommon to feel a bit 'low' for a few days."
MSI carries out around 35,000 abortions a year. Last July it set up a service enabling women to book online for a consultation leading to an abortion.
Invited to respond to its latest campaign, the British pro-life charity Life (lifeuk.org) said MSI was not offering "honest, straightforward help and advice" as it claims.
"By failing to tell the truth about the effects of abortion on the physical and mental health of women they are denying women the right to make a fully informed decision," said Life spokesperson Rachel Heath.
"Abortion always has two victims; one dead, the other wounded," she said. "Where is the practical help and advice for those women who want to keep their unborn child?"
Heath said abortion was a "big money-spinning business and MSI is one cog in the wheel."
Meanwhile the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (spuc.org.uk) said the MSI initiative "proves that the pro-abortionists are becoming ever more desperate to get their message across."
"The campaign emphasizes choice, but in fact it is a campaign against freedom of speech and information," said spokesman Dominic Baster.
"It is a tacit admission that pro-lifers have truth on their side, and that many women think twice about aborting their unborn child when faced with the reality of what abortion entails. Every surgical abortion stops a baby's heart from beating, and this is the truth which Marie Stopes International wants to hide."
A brief review of the major Internet search engines Wednesday brought mixed results.
A simple word search for "abortion" in Yahoo! brought up 43 "pro-choice" sites and 117 "pro-life" ones, while a Lycos search brings up several thousand sites of all varieties, but the top three, which are "highly recommended," are all pro-abortion.
Alta Vista offers five "sponsored listings" for abortion - one is pro-life, two are sites for abortion clinics, and the other two are neutral. WebCrawler gives four "directory matches" - one pro-life, one pro-abortion, one listing abortion clinics, and one on abortion as a political issue.
Of the top 10 sites turned up by a word search on Excite, eight are pro-abortion, one leans toward a pro-life position, and one is neutral. Hotbot gives three "featured listings," of which two are pro-abortion, and the other pro-life.
Of the top 10 sites offered by Northern Light Search, three are neutral, five are pro-abortion, and two are pro-life. One of the latter contains graphic images, with a warning that those under 12 should not proceed further into the site.
The domain names abortion.com and abortion.org are both currently up for sale, according to the sites.