The thirty-second spot, which is set to air Monday on the UK's Channel 4, will ask viewers "are you late?" It will then provide the number of a helpline run by Marie Stopes International, an abortion and sexual health clinic. The UK's Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice actually bans for-profit companies from advertising abortion services, but since Marie Stopes is a nonprofit, the ban doesn't apply to them. However, the commercial won't run in Northern Ireland, where abortion is still illegal.
Plenty of anti-choice groups in other parts of the UK think the advertisement shouldn't be running anywhere. Michaela Aston of the group Life told the BBC,
To allow abortion providers to advertise on TV, as though they were no different from car companies or detergent manufacturers, is grotesque. By suggesting that abortion is yet another consumer choice, it trivialises human life and completely contravenes the spirit of the 1967 Abortion Act, which was supposed to allow for a small number of legal abortions in a limited number of hard cases, but has been twisted and distorted to allow for mass abortion on demand.
The Guardian's Laurie Penny handily satirizes this position, referring to "the decision by Marie Stopes International to advertise on television – almost as if it were offering a legal service that a third of British women will have cause to access in their lifetime." Penny makes the important point that "our culture is saturated with graphic commercial images of women's bodies, and yet frank conversation about health concerns that affect all women is almost entirely absent from the public arena." Many objections to the ad seem to revolve around the idea that public discussion of abortion is somehow unseemly — says Mike Judge of the Christian Institute, "Getting an abortion is not like buying soap powder, and it shouldn't be advertised on TV." But it's perfectly accepted to use (an idealized, cleaned-up version of) women's sexuality to sell everything from cars to hamburgers — to balk at discussions of actual women having actual sex and coping with the consequences is, as Penny points out, the height of hypocrisy.
Just as American anti-abortion groups sometimes make the ridiculous claim that Planned Parenthood rakes in enormous profits from abortions, Britain's Society for the Protection of Unborn Children accuses Marie Stopes of running a racket. Spokesman Anthony Ozimic says the organization's "huge multi-national revenue means it can afford TV advertising, which is hugely expensive. This creates an unfair playing field, as pro-life groups simply cannot afford any such advertising" (maybe Focus on the Family could help them out). Ozimic also says, "Marie Stopes may claim to be a non-profit organisation, but they have a financial interest in drumming up demand for abortion." The irony here is that so many companies actually seek to make a profit off of women's bodies, either by using them as advertising tools, or by selling all manner of modifications to them in the name of beauty (or both). And yet when an organization tries to give women actual information about their own bodies — Marie Stopes notes that it got 350,000 calls to its helpline last year, but performed only 65,000 abortions — that organization is branded as mercenary. The controversy is a sad reminder that the battle for women's reproductive rights is international, and that this battle is far from won.
Image via Guardian.
Outcry Over Abortion Advert Is About Power, Not Saving Foetuses [Guardian]
Abortion Ad Blocked In Northern Ireland [Guardian]
Abortion Services To Be Advertised On UK Television For First Time [Guardian]
Abortion Advice Organisation Marie Stopes To Air TV Ad [BBC]
Britain's First Abortion Television Advert In Spite Of Ban [Telegraph]