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ss triple helix - summer 2009,  Abortion advertising on TV?

Abortion advertising on TV?

A BMA debate

Review by Mark Pickering
GP and CMF regional secretary in York

Back in March I went to a local BMA meeting to submit some motions for the ARM (annual representatives' meeting) on 29 June-2 July. At the time there was media coverage of a potential relaxation of advertising rules that could see abortion providers advertising on TV. So I wrote a motion against it, which was accepted, and forgot about it, until an Observer journalist called me during afternoon surgery a couple of weeks before the ARM. Then a few days later the Mail on Sunday wanted some quotes, then Radio 4 Woman's Hour. Only the Mail actually ran anything, and that with an unhelpful headline, (1) but it was generating interest!

The motion was based on the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice consultation, considering revisions to the code, which was out to public consultation until 19 June. It proposed relaxing the rules on 'post-conception advice services', which would include both abortion providers and crisis pregnancy counselling centres. It also proposed forcing such services to be explicit about whether or not they referred directly for abortion.

The motion was debated at the ARM on 1 July, just before a motion on assisted death. It was clearly going to be controversial. I put the case that the BMA should oppose the move, as it would be:

  • Unnecessary - as information on abortion is readily available, and any woman who wants an abortion can find one already;
  • Discriminatory - as only the big, government-funded abortion providers like BPAS and Marie Stopes would be able to afford TV advertising, and this would effectively exclude not-for-profit crisis pregnancy counselling centres;
  • Giving the wrong message - as raising the profile of abortion services would further permeate the message that unwanted pregnancy is not such a big problem, because there's always a safety net.

Furthermore, I called for existing sex and relationships education to be values-based, to counter the values-free messages coming from an oversexualised media. Sadly the motion fell. But it gave me some great conversations, including one with one of the speakers against the motion. It left me with renewed optimism in the opportunities for effecting change through local BMA divisions, along with some valuable lessons about tightening up the wording for future attempts!

In the meantime, let's pray that the ongoing deliberations on advertising rules won't result in abortion TV ads - we expect the decision in the autumn.

  1. Ban these 'sexy' abortion clinic adverts, say doctors. Mail on Sunday 2009; 21 June: 16
  2. See further details in CMF's submission to the consultation
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