When is an Abortion Ad not an Abortion Ad?

If you were at all distracted, it would have passed you by, so low-key was Marie Stopes’ televised advertisement this evening. And yet you can bet that even this overtly discreet approach will still cause much outrage from anti-abortion campaigners, simply because they don’t agree that abortion (a legal service that is available on the NHS in England, Scotland and Wales) should be advertised.

But was this really the ‘abortion advert’ that everyone was expecting? There were certainly no jigging supermodels spouting the joys of abortion-as-contraception… but, on the flip side, there was absolutely no mention of abortion at all. Not a whisper. When it boiled down to it, all we were told was a wishy-washy “If your period is late, you could be pregnant. If you’re pregnant and not sure what to do, Marie Stopes International can help”, along with a number to call.

Which is actually pretty fantastic since, according to research, 42% of adults do not know where to get specialist advice about unplanned pregnancy. It’s great that these people can now be better informed and take action towards learning more. It’s also worth noting that abortion isn’t the only service Marie Stopes offer, and they state that they ‘always support a woman’s choice to continue with her pregnancy or have an abortion’ and that ‘No one else should pressure her into either continuing with the pregnancy or having an abortion’.

Still, it’s interesting to note that even Marie Stopes themselves refer to the advertisment as an ‘abortion ad’ and, with this in mind, it seems even stranger that there was no mention of the A word in the 32 second slot. Whilst I’m sure that this choice was made so as to be as un-alarming as possible to anti-abortionists (and, perhaps, to adhere to strict advertising regulations), actually, I think this coy approach could work against them just as much as if they’d mentioned abortion as just one of the solutions available for women with unwanted/crisis pregnancies. Already I can envisage anti-abortion campaigners complaining that Marie Stopes are dishonestly reeling in confused and vulnerable women, only to pounce with the suggestion of abortion once these poor souls are in their grasp.

Of course, most people credit women with the intelligence to make their own decisions, so I’m not too worried about this angle. I am, however, still a bit disappointed that Marie Stopes didn’t list their services for a couple of reasons; One – Because I hoped to learn more about them… that’s what adverts are for, after all! And Two – Because it would be so open, honest and refreshing to begin a real conversation about abortion as an option that is just as legitimate as carrying on a pregnancy or looking towards adoption (remember how brilliant those NHS contraception ads were?).

Marie Stopes International chief executive Dana Hovig has said:

Last year alone we received 350,000 calls to our 24-hour helpline. Clearly there are hundreds of thousands of women who want and need sexual health information and advice and access to services. We hope the new Are you late? campaign will encourage people to talk about their choices, including abortion, more openly and honestly, and empower women to reach confident, informed decisions about their sexual health.

But how can you confront the taboo if you never actually confront it?

More to read:

Kate Smurthwaite (from Abortion Rights) at Cruella Blog

James at Cubik’s Rube

Sarah Wild at Health Care Republic

Abortion Ad and The Irish Debate at Nerin Online

Laurie Penny at Comment Is Free

Reports at The Daily Mail and at The Guardian

(Image screen-grabbed from the Marie Stopes advert)

By: Sarah Barnes, 24.05.2010 | Comments (0)
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