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Abortion and information

May 20, 2010

So Marie Stopes, the sexual health charity, are going to be running an advert about their unplanned-pregnancy-advice services, which naturally includes details of what abortion entails and how and where to get one. They’re known for being unbiased and nonjudgemental, and are a well-respected charity.

However, inevitably, their plans to run an ad campaign informing people of where to get clear and non-shaming advice about abortion have met with loud objections from people concerned, nay, horrified that abortions are being advertised on the TV these days.

Now personally, I can’t even imagine what an advertisement for abortion would look like. Buy one, get one free? Recommend to a friend and get 50% off? Discounts for frequent customers?

Two things make the above nonsensical: firstly, medical procedures are generally not had on impulse, because people tend to be leery of doing serious things to their bodies unless they’re really sure of the benefits to be had. And secondly, under the NHS, convincing people to get procedures they don’t need is not only pointless but actually counterproductive. A for-profit system has a motive for getting bodies on tables regardless of need; a nonprofit has the opposite. (The myth that abortion providers are somehow in it for the money makes even less sense in Britain than it does elsewhere.)

Given those two points, the idea that Marie Stopes (or anyone, really) is trying to advertise abortion itself is nonsensical. No. What they’re advertising is information. The ad campaign was formulated after surveys found that (via the Guardian):

fewer than half of UK adults knew where to go for specialist advice about an unplanned pregnancy other than their GP. It also found that 76% of adults believed adverts for services offering advice on unplanned pregnancy should be allowed on television at ‘appropriate times’.

After reading this bit I had a think, and realised that actually, I’m in that more-than-half, despite the fact that I am a) pretty well informed generally and b) fully intend to abort if the pill fails on me at any time within the next several years, and so have put some thought into the subject. I’d probably consult the Internet in the first instance, but then, yeah, GP.

So clearly there’s a need for better information on this particular head, and that’s what Marie Stopes are offering – clear, unbiased information on what’s available, where, how, and its pros and cons.

Considered in this light, the ruckus immediately kicked up by various groups about the adverts becomes a little more sinister. Apparently it’s not just that they don’t want people to get abortions; no, evidently they don’t want people even to know about abortions, either. It should go without saying that anyone who actively tries to keep the people they purport to serve in ignorance should ring very deep alarm bells – to paraphrase Commissioner Pravin Lal, “Beware of those who would deny you access to information, for in their hearts they dream themselves your masters.”

Really, the knee-jerk response is telling, and could well backfire. After all, it’s hard for this sort of group to claim they are not anti-choice when they are clearly upset about people being made aware of the choices available; and it’s also hard for them to argue their position’s obvious moral superiority when they themselves appear to think that people will desert it in droves if given an alternative. That is not exactly being confident in your message.

I don’t know exactly when these adverts will be screened, but I’ll keep an eye out for them, and no doubt they’ll appear on YouTube within seconds of going off-air. So there may be a follow-up post once I’ve got something to look at. Also, finally: can I say how happy I am that this advert is even happening? It’s the sort of thing that gives me back a little of my faith in the UK’s general progressive momentum, in a week when our new blue-and-yellow overlords have been saying increasingly worrying things about crime and Europe and so on.

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