Freddy Gray

The problem with abortion adverts on TV

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You probably don’t have to be a swivel-eyed pro-lifer – for purposes of disclosure, I should say that I am a swivel-eyed pro-lifer – to think that there is something a bit sinister about abortion clinic advertisements being shown on TV. Even people who fully support a woman’s right to choose might admit that it is not exactly tasteful to publicise and promote abortion on the airwaves.  


Still, at first glance, the controversial advert for Marie Stopes International (MSI) – see video above – looks innocuous enough. ‘Are you late?’  it says, piano twinkling away meaningfully in the background. ‘You could be pregnant … Marie Stopes International can help.’ Freephone helpline number provided. 

Certainly, the Advertising Standards Authority sees nothing wrong with it. Yesterday, they dismissed angry complaints against the ad from the god-fearing, pro-life mob. The ASA agreed with Marie Stopes’s argument: the ad doesn’t directly steer viewers towards abortion, and therefore it cannot be deemed offensive.


I would disagree. And, whatever the rights and wrongs of the abortion issue, it is disingenuous of Marie Stopes to present itself as purely a pregnancy advisory service. The group is first and foremost an abortion provider, the leading one in Britain. Last year, they made at least £36 million pounds -- £30 million of which was paid by the taxpayer through the NHS – terminating more than 60,000 of the nation’s unwanted pregnancies.


At least on the MSI website, the group – officially a ‘not-for-profit’ -- is more upfront about the nature of its business.  Up to 12 weeks pregnant? That’ll be £510. 19-24 weeks late? You’re looking at £1720.  There is even a little message at the bottom: ‘please note that an additional £35 fee is charged for abortion services carried out during weekends.’  Not exactly delicate, but honest. 


In 2001, in the run up to the general election, the BBC, ITV, and Channel 4 all barred the Pro-Life Alliance from airing anti-abortion advertisements. The BBC was later found guilty of censorship, but their decision was perhaps understandable. It seems unfair now, however, with very rich abortion clinics advertising their services on TV.

Written byFreddy Gray

Freddy Gray is deputy editor of The Spectator. He was formerly literary editor of The American Conservative.

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