Sept. 18, 2008— -- As part of an out-of-court settlement with a British Christian organization, Google agreed Wednesday to display anti-abortion ads purchased by religious groups.
In April, The Christian Institute took legal action against the Internet search giant when Google did not approve an abortion-related ad with the text:
UK Abortion law
Key views and news on abortion law from The Christian Institute
At the time, Google said its policy did not permit the advertisement of Web sites that contain "abortion and religion-related content."
Arguing that it was being treated differently because of its religious beliefs, the institute filed a lawsuit against Google under the U.K. Equality Act 2006, a law that prohibits religious discrimination.
Instead of continuing to fight the case in the court, Google reviewed its abortion ads policy and agreed to revise its policy.
"The issue of abortion is an emotive subject and Google does not take a particular side," the company said in a statement. "Over the last few months we have been reviewing our abortion ads policy in order to make sure it was fair, up to date and consistent with local customs and practices. Following the review we have decided to amend our policy, creating a level playing field and enabling religious associations to place ads on abortion in a factual way."
In an e-mail, Google spokesman Ben Novick told ABCNews.com that by "factual," the company meant that "ads need to aim to educate and inform, not to shock."
"The ads can refer to government legislation and existing law and the alternatives to abortion. But, they cannot link to Web sites, which show graphic images that aim to shock people into changing their minds," he continued.
The policy change is effective immediately and applies worldwide. Although Novick could not tell ABCNews.com how many religious groups have now purchased Google ads, he said that The Christian Institute's ad is currently live in the United Kingdom.
Stateside, religious and anti-abortion rights groups are hailing Google's decision as a victory for both free speech and people of faith.
Google: Freedom of Speech
"We really applaud Google for making the right decision and standing by freedom of speech. It really was outrageous to censor The Christian Institute," Charmaine Yoest, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit, anti-abortion organization Americans United for Life (AUL), told ABCNews.com.
Yoest said AUL had not attempted to purchase abortion-related ads on Google. But she said she had observed discrimination when attempting to purchase ads for print campaigns.
"They raise the rates -- that's usually the kind of discrimination [we see]," she added.
The Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, said his group had not attempted to purchase Google ads but, because of the change in policy, was starting to discuss it.
"This is not only a significant victory for people who consider themselves pro-choice but also a victory for people of faith," he said. "We're not treated as second class citizens."
However, he said he was mildly concerned with Google's inclusion of the word "factual."
"Who decides what is abortion in a factual way?" he asked.
On this one point, supporters and opponents of abortion may agree.
Kim Gandy, the president of the National Organization for Women, which supports abortion rights, also reflected on the word "factual."
"I find it interesting that they say accurate ads. And, indeed, if the ads are accurate, I think it is a free speech issue," she said. "But what we find is that so much of what is being said about abortion is inaccurate."
She said she thought it was admirable that Google was trying to require truth in advertising. But, referring to Web sites such thepillkills.com and others that link abortion with breast cancer, she said, "A variety of things debunked by the medical community are advertised on the Internet."