London (CNSNews.com) - An advertising campaign promoting the morning after-pill due to hit the pages of popular women's magazines next month has angered British pro-life and religious groups.
The campaign for the Levonelle pill will mark the first time the drug will be advertised in mainstream publications since it was allowed to be sold over the counter last year. Ann Scanlan, spokeswoman for anti-abortion group Life, said the advertisements would encourage risky sexual activity.
"By printing ads in major magazines, there's going to be a knock-on effect, that will make people less responsible when it comes to sex," Scanlan said.
The advertisements, which will run starting next month, read: "Split condom. Oops. Emergency Contraception!!! Quick. Pharmacy. Buy Levonelle ... phew."
Life says Levonelle's manufacturers, Schering Health Care, are acting irresponsibly, and argue that the pill is not really a contraceptive, but actually induces abortion.
"There's also women's health issues at stake here," Scanlan said Friday. "The ads target young girls who can go to any pharmacy and get the pill ... a busy pharmacy doesn't have the time or resources to question every girl on her medical history or even check the age of girls who purchase the pill."
Last January, the British government decided to allow any woman over age 16 to obtain the pill without a prescription, provided they answer a series of health questions. Officials have also started a series of trial programs to provide the pill, which costs nearly $30, free to girls under 16.
The Anglican Church also criticized the ad campaign. Spokesman Steve Jenkins told the Daily Telegraph that the pill was closer to abortion than contraception.
"It's not contraception, because conception has already taken place," Jenkins said. "It would be better if the need to take it did not arise - in other words, don't get pregnant."
The Family Planning Association (FPA) attacked the Life stance, saying the pill allows women to make an important choice in a pinch.
"Emergency hormonal contraception is very safe and effective," FPA Chief Executive Anne Weyman said in a statement. "It's extraordinary that advertising emergency contraception should create such a storm. Women have the right to control their own fertility ... you don't get this kind of fuss about condom advertising."
FPA spokeswoman Melissa Dear said the ad campaign would give women much-needed information about the morning-after pill.
"Women want this pill, women use the pill, and they're entitled to do so," Dear said by phone. "The reality is that contraception does fail, and this pill is not going to encourage promiscuity.
"It's not a method that women can rely on all the time, but the pill is there for emergency use only," she continued. "When faced with the possibility of an unplanned pregnancy, it's an excellent option."
Company defends campaign
Schering Health Care's U.K. subsidiary backed up the FPA stance and defended the company's ad campaign.
"The reality of life in modern Britain is that women want to be in control of their own lives," said Dr. Peter Longthorne, the company's medical director. "The advertising campaign aims to be responsible, educating women about the options open to them, should their normal method of contraception fail."
The company claims that two-fifths of British women are unaware that they can obtain the pill over the counter.
"The most important thing is that women make their own decision, knowing all the facts," Longthorne said.
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