The company behind a controversial new TV advertisement for abortion services has hit out at laws that prevent it from broadcasting in Northern Ireland.
Millions of people in England, Scotland and Wales will be able to watch the commercial for Marie Stopes International on Channel 4 at 10.10pm tonight.
But the channel is prevented from airing the commercial in Northern Ireland as abortion is illegal in the province.
Pro-life groups in Northern Ireland said they welcomed legislation blocking the ad from being broadcast.
But they remained “angered” that it would still be screened elsewhere in the UK.
But a leading sexual health charity said it was another example of how women in the province “are treated differently” to the rest of the UK.
The Family Planning Association said it highlighted the need to “decriminalise” abortion in Northern Ireland.
The ad, which is part of the ‘Are you late’ campaign by the Marie Stopes International, will air on Channel 4 until the end of June.
Dana Hovig, Marie Stopes International’s CEO, said: “It’s a shame that we are not allowed to screen the commercial in Northern Ireland — abortion continues to be severely restricted there and women in Northern Ireland are forced to travel to England for abortion services.
“Therefore the advertising of abortion facilities, their contact numbers or addresses is against the law in Northern Ireland.”
Dr Audrey Simpson, director of Northern Ireland for the Family Planning Association, said: “I think a lot of people would say it is inappropriate to use this ad on television because it would encourage women to have abortions.
“They use the argument that if you give people information it encourages them to go and do something. But women already have access to that information.
“It is another example of how women in Northern Ireland are not treated the same as women throughout the UK.”
She added: “But the bigger issue is not about the advert but that women don’t have access to services here as they do in the rest of the UK. Abortion needs to be decriminalised here.”
Bernadette Smyth, director of pro life group Precious Life, said she welcomed the advert not being screened here. But she added she was concerned it could be watched by women from Northern Ireland who travel to other parts of the UK.
“I would heavily criticise Channel 4 for allowing this advert to be screened,” she said.
Ms Smyth said it would not only “further commercialise the killing of unborn children” but also lead to more “quick fix” abortions.
Channel 4 defended screening the commercial.
A spokeswoman for the channel said the advert is compliant with Broadcast Committee on Advertising Practice (BCAP’s) Advertising Standards Code.
“Subject to an advert being cleared for broadcast under the code, we are prepared to transmit it in an appropriate time slot; we believe it is up to viewers to form their own judgments about the content and messages that advertising contains.”
According to Marie Stopes International, in 2008 1,173 women travelled to England from Northern Ireland for an abortion.