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marie stopes to run first ever abortion advisory TV advert

24 May 2010

At 10.10pm on Channel 4 this Monday, the UK will see its first ever TV advert aimed at providing women with advice about abortion.

Abortion has been legal in the UK for more than 40 years, but advertising rules still restrict commercial providers from advertising their services. Though clearly the advert will be highly controversial, Marie Stopes say they have taken legal advice and have been given permission to air the advert, as they are a “non-commercial organisation.” Such organisations, including the Government, are permitted to advertise “pregnancy advisory services.”

Similar, the ASA have said that non-commercial providers of post-conception advice services have long been permitted to run such advertisements. Any advert that is broadcast has to comply with all the relevant rules in their Advertising Code. However, the ASA cannot act on objections that viewers might have about the service being advertised at all – they can only act on complaints, after broadcast, that the advert has breached its codes, for instance on its actual content, or inappropriate scheduling.

Nevertheless, the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children is considering making a challenge to the legality of the advertisement. As the ASA have set out the limits of their involvement, it will be interesting to see what other route SPUC try to pursue to prevent such advertisements – potentially arguments about human rights, including the right to life and the right to free speech, may be involved.

From a legal perspective, this shows the importance of seeking advice before embarking on an advertising campaign, because Marie Stopes are now able to state that they have taken such advice ahead of any controversy which might be brewing. It shows the limits of the ASA’s remit, even in highly controversial cases – but also that these limits do not prevent offended groups from seeking to take other forms of legal action.

advertisement will ask women “are you late?”, and will direct those facing an unplanned pregnancy to Marie Stopes’ helpline. It is anticipated that the advertisement will cause uproar amongst pro-life campaigners.

This may be Legal Honest and Truthful – but is it Decent?

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