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Commercials of Convenience – plans to advertise abortion on TV and radio contested

Published: 11th August 2011

HG Wells once said that 'advertising is legalised lying'. He would not have been thinking of TV adverts that promote the abortion industry when he said that, but I believe the same sentiment applies. Adverts on TV and radio that promote abortion sell it as a trivial and harmless procedure, which can easily be carried out in a lunch hour, with no long lasting effects or dangers. How far from the truth that is, and dangerous too, for those women who believe the adverts.

So far there has only been one major TV advertising campaign by an abortion provider, Marie Stopes International in 2010. However this would change if current proposals by the body that oversees TV and radio advertising, the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP) come to fruition. BCAP have recently consulted on whether to relax the laws governing advertising by 'post-conception advice services' (PCAS), which includes abortion providers, family planning centres as well as pregnancy counselling centres, so that more adverts would be shown on TV and radio promoting abortion. CMF has strongly opposed this proposal, and others, in a submission sent this week to BCAP.

Of course it is not just abortion providers who could advertise. Counselling and pregnancy advice centres could also advertise under the proposed new rules. However there are a couple of twists to that because BCAP is also proposing to introduce rules that we believe would have a directly discriminating effect on centres not linked into the abortion industry.

First, they want to force all PCAS to state on their ads if they do not directly refer for abortion. This is a deliberate attempt to steer vulnerable women with a crisis pregnancy who are considering abortion away from independent advisory centres such as LIFE and Care Confidential by implying that these pregnancy crisis centres will only help women to keep their baby and will not provide full information and advice on all the options open to women - keeping the baby, adoption and abortion. Ironically, though not surprisingly in this context, no requirement is proposed of abortion services to state on their adverts what they do not provide (free, independent counselling, information on alternatives, practical support for keeping the baby or even information on risks of abortion). It's a case of one rule for some but not others.

Secondly, BCAP propose to introduce an 'accreditation' system for all counselling centres, so only those with 'suitable credentials' can advertise. We support in principle that centres advising women on their options acquire certain standards in order to ensure that the services they offer are of a high quality. However the 'suitable credentials' are poorly defined in the proposals and may restrict some centres that might not meet all of them, yet still offer a good and valuable service. It also opens the door to possible future restrictions on the operation of PCAS, depending on how the 'credentials' are defined.

The practical reality is that pregnancy advisory centres such as those run voluntarily by LIFE and Care Confidential simply do not have the financial resources to advertise, even if they wanted to. This is not the case for commercial abortion providers who have large incomes from the performance of abortion (and therefore also have financial vested interests in promoting abortion, as well as ideological ones). In fact, BPAS and Marie Stopes obtained an estimated £60m in 2010 from the NHS–funded abortions outsourced to them using tax-payers' money. That will leave plenty for advertising their abortions, if rules are relaxed.

There are a couple of encouraging developments in Parliament however, which we hope may help to limit the damage of these proposals. The Minister for Public Health, Anne Milton has stated that 'reducing the abortion rate is an absolute priority' for the Government. If government permits more advertising of abortion we argue that it will have the opposite effect.

The Minister further added that 'women should be given access to tailored, appropriate and impartial advice on their pregnancy options'. Elsewhere government has similarly expressed strong support for independent counselling provision and information on risks of abortion as well as birth: 'We are drawing up proposals to enable all women who are seeking an abortion to be offered access to independent counselling...provided by appropriately qualified individuals.' (Hansard, 6 July 2011 : Column 1269W).

The BCAP's own strapline is 'Legal, decent, honest and truthful'. However by promoting abortion advertising, ignoring the importance of independent counselling and information and trying to restrict the work of PCAS that are not tied into the abortion industry, the BCAP proposals are not just out of step with medical practice, social opinion, government thinking and other professional guidelines but do not even reflect their own strapline. We hope they are rejected.

The BCAP submissions closed on Monday 8 August. A recommendation from BCAP following this consultation will be sent to Ofcom by the end of 2011

By Philippa Taylor
CMF Head of Public Policy

For further information:

Steven Fouch (CMF Head of Communications) 020 7234 9668

Media Enquiries:

Alistair Thompson on 07970 162 225

About CMF:

Christian Medical Fellowship (CMF) was founded in 1949 and is an interdenominational organisation with over 5,000 doctors, 900medical and nursing students and 300 nurses and midwives as members in all branches of medicine, nursing and midwifery. A registered charity, it is linked to over 100 similar bodies in other countries throughout the world.

CMF exists to unite Christian healthcare professionals to pursue the highest ethical standards in Christian and professional life and to increase faith in Christ and acceptance of his ethical teaching.

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