A documentary on Channel 4 is to show footage of an abortion and previously banned images of aborted foetuses. The programme, My Foetus, is to be screened on 20 April, and will intensify a debate that has rarely been so graphically illustrated.
The film follows a woman who is four weeks pregnant being given a manual vacuum- aspiration abortion, which sucks the foetus into a syringe. The results of the procedure are then displayed in a Petri dish. Aborted foetuses aged 10 and 21 weeks are also shown in the programme. At this stage faces and limbs are clearly visible. Similar images were deemed offensive and banned when the Pro-Life Alliance included them in a 2001 election broadcast.
More than 180,000 abortions a year are performed in Britain.
Channel 4 said the taboo-breaking film would widen the abortion debate. But a spokesman for the Catholic Church said the film was worrying. "Abortion is abhorrent and all life is sacred. This programme is certainly something of concern," he said.
Nuala Scarisbrick, a spokeswoman for the anti-abortion charity Life, said: "If it encourages honest and open debate, and helps people to understand what abortion is and what it does, then it can only be helpful. The effect of the procedure on women's bodies and minds should be discussed."
The documentary, which had to gain special approval from Channel 4's head of programmes, will be screened at 11pm after warnings.
Julia Black, the maker of My Foetus, defended it yesterday. "The foetus has been hijacked by the anti-abortion groups, forcing the pro-choice movement into defending the woman's right to choose," she wrote in The Observer.
"As someone who was, and still is, pro-choice, I too want to engage with the foetus over abortion. I decided to include images of 10, 11 and 21-week aborted foetuses in my film because, however shocking, repulsive and confrontational they are, they represent the reality."
Channel 4 is no stranger to controversy. In 2002, it screened the Chinese performance artist Zhu Yu biting a dead baby's body. It also showed another artist, Gunther von Hagen, conducting an autopsy.Reuse content