The Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP) has announced a change in its regulations which would allow any organisation providing ‘post conception advice services’ to advertise in the broadcast media.
This changes everything...or does it?
Some anti-abortion organisations and anti-abortion MPs have expressed dismay that this ruling will lead to our airwaves being awash with advertising for abortion services, thereby ‘de-sensitising’ the public to how serious abortion is. In reality it is unlikely to lead to much new advertising. Those providing abortions in the not-for-profit sector like the big two, bpas and Marie Stopes, were already allowed to advertise and have only done so once between them (Marie Stopes in 2010). The private sector only provides 4% of abortions in England and Wales and though private clinics are now allowed to advertise are unlikely to do so as the cost would probably be prohibitive. So, it is unlikely we will see any significant increase in broadcast advertising of abortion services as a result of these changes.
The other important aspect of the new regulations is that they require those offering post conception services to be transparent about whether they refer women for abortion. The BCAP has said that this decision was made on public health grounds. This is because of a concern that a woman seeking abortion could be delayed if she chose to go to an independent pregnancy counselling service, not realising that they would not or could not refer her directly into an abortion service if this is what she chose. This change in regulation is welcomed by all those who – like EFC – are concerned that some women may be unnecessarily delayed from accessing abortion by making and waiting for an appointment with a service that might slow down the process - either deliberately or through simple logistics. Some people have objected to this transparency requirement on the grounds that while pregnancy advice organisations have to be honest about not referring for abortion, organisations like MSI and bpas do not have to disclose that they are abortion providers when offering post conception advice services. In reality it would be impossible to visit the bpas and MSI websites without realising that they provide abortions....If anything, the normal criticism of bpas and MSI from anti-choice campaigners like Nadine Dorries, is that they are constantly promoting their abortion services.
So, what will this part of the regulations change? Some independent (or ‘crisis’) pregnancy counselling centres are currently vague about what they offer. Some try to give the impression that they will support women to access abortion, although in fact they don’t. In July last year EFC published a report based on mystery shopping crisis pregnancy centres. We found that while some did explain clearly how to access an abortion to a client who had chosen to have one, others could not or would not provide any practical information to mystery shoppers. We think it is vital that any woman seeking support with pregnancy decision-making should also be given support to access abortion as quickly as possible if that is what she chooses. If this regulation helps women to identify the most suitable place to go to get the service they need and prevents women experiencing unnecessary delays in accessing abortion, then it will have made a positive difference.