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Catholic leader takes stand on adverts

Nichols to condemn TV slots for abortion clinics

Vincent Nichols, the newly-designated Archbishop of Westminster, will urge Roman Catholics today to oppose new plans to allow abortion services to advertise on radio and television.

In a clear indication that the 63-year-old is more than willing to pick political fights and tackle controversial issues when he takes over as the leader of Catholics in England and Wales next month, Archbishop Nichols is asking lay members to contest a new initiative which would relax rules on how pregnancy services and condoms can be advertised. As The Independent revealed last month, Britain's advertising watchdogs are considering allowing television ads for abortion under the biggest shake-up of regulations for 50 years.

The Broadcasting Committee on Advertising Practice (BCAP), which covers TV and radio, and the Committee on Advertising Practice (CAP) have proposed allowing pregnancy services to advertise during prime-time television and to allow condoms to be advertised before the 9pm watershed.

Aware that the issue will be controversial, particularly within religious communities, the watchdogs have launched a three-month consultation.

The rule changes coincide with new government efforts to reduce the number of teenage pregnancies in Britain which, at 42 per 1,000 under-18s, has the highest rate in Europe. But Archbishop Nichols has urged Catholics to make sure they speak out against it. In his first major policy speech since the Pope designated him the new Archbishop of Westminster last week, he said: "I would appeal to Catholics to respond to the consultation and two of the principles put forward are that advertisements should be truthful and tasteful.

"I doubt that any intended adverts about abortion would be fully truthful and tell the whole truth of the effects of abortion on a woman's life." He also attacked the latest condom adverts, calling them "demeaning" because they promoted "casual sex on the street corner" and "drunken sex".

"I do not think these things do anything to genuinely help young people to understand themselves in their own dignity and in the proper meaning of what human sexuality is about," he said.

The Catholic Church forbids the use of condoms. The adverts warn against unprotected sex by showing couples wearing clothing bearing the names of sexually transmitted infections. The NHS and prominent sexual health charities support the ads.

Marie Stopes International, Britain's biggest independent pregnancy advisory service, has said it may consider paying for prime-time adverts and last night it criticised Archbishop Nichols' stance on abortion adverts. A spokesperson said: "Advertising condoms and pregnancy advice services could work as a tool to educate young people to be sexually responsible when they are discovering sex. Earlier advertising of condoms and pregnancy advisory services will be a step forward in meeting this aim and may contribute to lowering high rates of teenage pregnancy."

The Terrence Higgins Trust, the country's largest HIV and sexual health charity, said the Church was out of touch with young people.

"The Archbishop may not like the current condom adverts but then he's not exactly our target audience," said Lisa Power, head of policy at the trust.

"We believe in good, relevant and effective sexual education because all the evidence shows that actually delays first-time sex and equips young people with the ability to resist peer pressure."