Abortion "Not A Huge, Contentious Issue" In UK

Britain's first TV ad for abortion services ran on Monday, and we talked with a spokesperson for the advertiser about the public response, and why abortion still retains an "air of secrecy."

I spoke on the phone yesterday with Julie Douglas, head of marketing for Marie Stopes International, the nonprofit network of sexual health clinics that commissioned the ad. Aside from a few anti-choice groups, she said, response to the spot has been "incredibly supportive" — she added, "we've had calls to our advice line from medical professionals very supportive of what we're doing, as well as women." She also cited a survey finding that 76% of Brits thought ads for abortion services should be allowed on TV, and explained that most people in the UK "understand women should have the right to choose to continue with the pregnancy or not, so it's not a huge contentious issue in this country."

Given the climate surrounding abortion here, it's easy to be envious. However, Douglas emphasized that "even though I said that it's not really contentious here, it's a very sort of secret thing that women have to do." The survey she cited also found that only 42% of people knew where they could get counseling and services if faced with an unplanned pregnancy, and "it's not terrifically clear what you do in that circumstance, who can help you and whether you get it free or whether you have to pay." Douglas chalks up some of this lack of clarity to "inconsistent sex education" in British schools. "Some are exceptionally good and some don't do anything," she says, creating a "hush hush" attitude around STIs, unplanned pregnancy, and abortion. The result is that when faced with unexpected pregnancy, "women just take it upon themselves, it can be their fault and feel that they've made a terrible mistake."

Marie Stopes International hopes their ad will help counteract this notion, but anti-choice forces continue to advocate for secrecy and shame. The latest is Bonnie Lander Johnson, who writes in the Guardian that "Normalising abortion is not a good service to women, it's a way of further ignoring their needs." She explains,

Were I to have an unwanted pregnancy, I would want my society to provide care, yes, but also to recognise that the implications of my pregnancy extend far beyond the limits of my own body.

I would want to be told all the serious repercussions a termination might have for my physical, psychological and emotional health, for the welfare of those around me, for the unborn baby and for the health of a society that depends on the responsible actions of its members.

Clearly, women don't receive enough information about how what they do with their bodies affects "the health of society." We need to stop sweeping women's sluttiness under the rug, and really start an open dialogue about how a woman's uterus is everyone else's business, because this point of view really isn't being heard. In all seriousness, though, while abortion may be less controversial in the UK than in the US, both countries clearly attach stigma to the procedure. The Marie Stopes ad may help lift some of this in Britain, but here in America even its "gentle" message ("Are you late?") would probably be shouted down by anti-choicers trying to police what women do.

Normalising Abortion Ignores Women's Needs [Guardian]
Advertising Unplanned Pregnancy Services Is Supported By Eight Out Of 10 British Adults [Marie Stopes International]

Earlier: Britain's First Televised Abortion Ad Angers Anti-Choicers
The Abortion Ad You'd Never See On American TV