From April 2012, abortion clinics can be advertised on UK TV. Not everyone is pleased with the prospect, as George Pearse reports.
Topic: Health & beauty
Who: The Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP)
When: January 2012
Law stated as at: 30 January 2012
During a review into the harmonisation of rules governing broadcast and non-broadcast advertising, a discrepancy was unearthed in relation to post-conception advice services (PCAS). The review discovered that there was no express rule relating to PCAS TV advertisements, which resulted in different regulations for radio and television on the same issue. A public consultation was launched that sought answers to the following questions:
1.1 whether to permit commercial PCAS providers to advertise on television;
1.2 whether BCAP should remove the radio rule that enabled only family planning centres (FCP) to advertise with local authorities or the NHS;
1.3 whether or not to extend a pre-existing rule, requiring medical and health advice services to provide adequate credentials before advertising, from radio to television; and
1.4 whether BCAP should introduce a new rule requiring the provider of services offering post-conception advice on pregnancy to clarify that they do not directly refer women for a termination.
In light of the politically sensitive nature of regulating issues such as abortion, it was unsurprising that the consultation received a huge number of responses both for against the proposals. Although interestingly neither the Department for Culture Media and Sport, nor the Department of Health responded to the enquiry.
BCAP were forced to clarify their proposals after a number of respondents misinterpreted the scope of the pre-existing rules, erroneously believing that there was an outright ban in place over all PCAS. The results were carefully considered by BCAP, who released a regulatory statement on the matter on 20th January 2012. BCAP was tasked with finding the correct balance between the need of PCAS providers to advertise their legally available services and the need to prevent any harmful, offensive or misleading advertising.
The regulatory statement has generated a huge amount of press attention, with many objections being raised by religious groups. In response to the statement, Christian Concern have expressed worries that "advertising is not the appropriate medium" for the abortion procedure. They also claim that BCAP's new rules are "biased", as they now require pro-life groups to declare up-front that they do not offer abortion services, whereas abortion providers do not have to advertise the fact that they might not discuss serious alternatives. The policy and legal resource centre also claimed that advertisements regarding abortion would qualify as misleading or harmful and be likely to cause serious and widespread offence.
MPs were also amongst those who issued objections, with the Conservative MP Nadine Dorries claiming that the advertising on television of abortion services would "desensitise what abortion is and the seriousness of it…making it sound like it's as easy as having your lunch".
Why this matters:
Despite the vociferous objections that were voiced, BCAP is going to press ahead with changes to the UK Advertising Code rules relating to the advertising of PCAS.
As a direct result, the category of PCAS for advertisements on both TV and radio will be broadened. The existing restriction that prevents TV advertising about commercial services offering personal advice will be removed. Under rule 11.9, marketers are obligated to provide "suitable credentials" to ensure that their advertisements are acceptable. This existing rule led BCAP to conclude that sufficient safeguards were in place to ensure that PCAS advertisements would be sufficiently responsible. The rule has the dual effect of maintaining the BCAP principle that adverts should not mislead, harm or offend.
A further change is the introduction of Rule 11.11.1 to the BCAP Code and Rule 12.24 of the CAP Code. Under these new regulations, marketers who do not refer women directly for termination must make this clear in their advertisement. This introduction comes on the back of strong public health grounds to increase transparency in relation to some PCAS. This has the chief aim of avoiding any unnecessary delay for those women who do consider termination to be an option.
The changes are being introduced as of 30th April 2012.