Health

Marie Stopes abortion advice TV ad complaints rejected

  • 4 August 2010
  • From the section Health
still from the ad
The ad featured a woman who had missed her period

Complaints about the first UK television advertisement by an abortion advisory organisation have been rejected by the advertising watchdog.

The 1,054 complaints from the public, GPs, counsellors and MPs objected to Marie Stopes' "Are you late?" advert.

Critics said the campaign in May and June for advice on unplanned pregnancy was misleading, offensive and harmful.

But the Advertising Standards Authority said it did not mention or advocate abortion.

The ad, which ran on Channel 4, drew the seventh highest number of complaints to the ASA of all time.

Viewers complained that it promoted abortion, offended their religious beliefs, did not take into account the views of fathers, was sexist for implying that pregnancy was solely a woman's responsibility.

Some were worried that it would actively encourage viewers to have an abortion. Others said the advert turned abortion into a consumer service.

Another concern hinged on whether the ad misled viewers by not referring to the physical and mental health risks of abortion and failed to mention that pregnant women who wanted advice could contact their GPs or seek the advice of family members.

Marie Stopes defended its campaign saying it did not mention abortion and did not promote the procedure, but aimed to draw attention to its advice line for any women concerned about a missed period or unplanned pregnancy.

The charity said it received an "overwhelmingly positive" response to the ad, taking significantly more calls to the advice line during the period the ad was shown from women and health professionals who expressed gratitude for the support.

It said by showing a range of women in different circumstances, the ad was intended to "dispel the often-repeated myth that unplanned pregnancy was experienced mainly by young, feckless, single women".

Rejecting the complaints, the ASA said the issue of abortion was controversial and distasteful to some, and acknowledged that many complainants interpreted that ad as a promotion of the procedure.

But is said the commercial was for an advice service for women dealing with an unplanned pregnancy and did not focus on any one service or mention abortion.

The ASA said: "We understood that post-conception decisions could be very difficult, but considered the ad dealt with the issue of possible pregnancy in an understated way and was not sensationalist.

"The women featured in the ad looked deep in thought, and we did not therefore consider that the ad trivialised the dilemma of an unplanned pregnancy.

"Whilst the ad featured three women, we did not consider that it suggested that only the woman would be affected, or that she should take any decisions alone."

The watchdog said it did not consider that the ad focused on or advocated any particular choice or course of action over another, or put forward any assumptions about what the women would or should do.

It added: "We were satisfied that any callers to the advice line would be advised about the health implications of any intervention or procedure which might be appropriate for her, in consultation with a qualified and regulated healthcare professional."

The ProLife Alliance said it was outraged at the ASA's decision.

A spokeswoman said: "It is preposterous to assert that the ad was not misleading."

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