Monday, January 30, 2012

TV and Radio advertising of abortion in the UK

The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) have issued a question and answer briefing highlighting the urgency of UK government action to stop TV advertising by Commercial abortion providers. The question-and-answer briefing below sets out all the relevant information needed to help make this happen. Whilst the briefing is directed towards UK citizens we would also encourage that international pressure be brought to bear on the relevant authorities.

Q: What has happened?
A: This week the two bodies which draft the advertising code of practice made changes to allow “commercial post-conception advice services” - in reality, abortion clinics which earn income from performing abortions - to advertise on television and radio, in print and elsewhere. Pro-abortion organisations have welcomed the change; pro-life groups, some columnists and many ordinary people (some not pro-life) have objected to it. The change will come into effect on 30 April.

Q: Who exactly has made this decision?
A: Two committees, the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP) and the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP). These are committees of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). They are not statutory authorities. BCAP draws up the Code of Advertising Practice on behalf of Ofcom.

Q: But aren’t abortion clinics already allowed to advertise? Didn’t Marie Stopes run TV ads a while ago?
A: In early 2010 BCAP decided that there was nothing under existing law or codes to prevent non-commercial abortion centres from advertising on TV and radio, as long as the advertisements didn’t actually offer abortion directly. An advertisement by Marie Stopes International, one of the largest abortion chains in the UK and internationally, was shown shortly afterwards on TV.
The advert cleverly avoided mention of abortion. It was all done by implication. It depicted a young woman worried about her period being late. The advert asked: "Who can help her?" and the answer given was Marie Stopes. Thousands of people complained that advertising abortion in this way was illegal, indecent, dishonest and untruthful, but BCAP approved the adverts anyway. SPUC argued (and still argues) that the decision was wrong, not least because Marie Stopes was (and is) run on a commercial basis, with ‘business development’ managers, millions of pounds put aside for ‘future projects’, lucrative contracts with governments, income from fee-paying clients, and perks for its staff typical of commerce (but rare for charities).
This past week (20 January 2012) BCAP have gone further and actually changed its code to allow commercial abortion centres to advertise on TV and radio. This change gives a clear, added confirmation to so-called charities providing abortion that making money from abortion won’t bar them from advertising on TV and radio. Also, this decision will be useful to Marie Stopes and similar abortion operators if at some point they decide to drop their official status as charities, or decide to split up their operations between registered charities and registered (commercial) companies.

Q: Will abortion centres have to say that they perform abortion or have a financial interest in abortion?
A: No. BCAP considered such a requirement but rejected the need for it.

Q: Will pro-life organisations be allowed to advertise on TV and radio?
A: In principle, yes.

Q: If pro-life organisations are allowed to advertise, what’s wrong with allowing abortion centres to advertise?
A: Commercial abortion providers can afford broadcast advertising; whereas groups which provide objective information about abortion and its impact on women's health will be unlikely to afford to advertise. Most pro-life advice services charge nothing. Abortionists can just add the costs of advertising into their charges. Thus there will be a disproportionate opportunity for abortion providers to advance their cause.
CAP have said that any organisation giving post-conception pregnancy advice must first provide “suitable credentials” before being allowed to advertise. There is a real danger that the credentials of pro-life organisations will not be regarded as “suitable” because they refuse to offer abortion or refer women for abortion, and because they reject “official” guidance, such as the guidance from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), which was drawn up with the help of abortion providers.
CAP have also said that advertisements by pro-life pregnancy centres must make clear that they do not refer women for abortions. CAP have admitted that they have adopted this requirement based on advice from the pro-abortion Department of Health, the pro-abortion RCOG and a pro-abortion parliamentary committee report.

Q: It’s a free country, with free speech. What’s wrong with abortion centres being allowed to promote what they have to offer?
A: Abortion centres mislead women, by telling them that their unborn babies are just 'products of conception', and that abortion is not killing but simply ending a pregnancy. Allowing commercial abortion centres to advertise on television immediately treats abortion as if it was a service or a desirable product.
Also, this move will increase the number of organisations able to advertise abortion. Marie Stopes and similar organisations have a vested financial interest in abortion, which they can now sustain through broadcast advertising. These organisations offer virtually no practical help to women who keep their babies, yet nowhere does this have to be mentioned.

Q: What should we think about the ASA, BCAP and CAP in the light of this decision?
A: The advertising industry is displaying a bias to support the devious and sleazy agenda of abortion operators, who have ideological and commercial interests in promoting abortion. The ASA already demonstrated a bias against pro-life groups when it attempted to ban advertisements which stated correctly that morning-after pills may cause early abortions. As an industry-based group, it is free to reflect the views of the broadcasters and publishers who want lucrative advertising deals. It is a great shame that it has not acted more impartially.

Q: What should happen now?
A: Jeremy Hunt MP, the cabinet minister with responsibility for media, is reportedly “very unhappy” about the decision but apparently lacks the resolve to act. However, Ed Vaizey MP, his deputy, told Parliament on 2 June 2010 that Mr Hunt has the power to order Ofcom, the statutory regulator, to order TV and radio stations not to broadcast certain advertisements. In contrast, ASA, BCAP and CAP are not statutory bodies. They are not answerable democratically or judicially to anyone, nor do they have power to impose any penalties or hold anyone to account. MPs should remind Mr Hunt of his powers in relation to Ofcom, and urge him to use those powers to rein-in ASA, BCAP and CAP, which have acted irresponsibly.

Q: To whom should I write?
A: Please write to your Member of Parliament (MP), asking him/her to write to Mr Hunt on your behalf, reminding Mr Hunt of his powers in relation to Ofcom, and urging Mr Hunt to use those powers to block all advertisements by abortion centres.