BPAS' underground adverts
By Ellie Lee
On Wednesday last week, posters promoting British Pregnancy
Advisory Services' (BPAS) abortion service were displayed
on cross-track sites at London Underground tube stations.
The posters, which are 10ft by 7ft, feature the word 'Abortion'
in large letters, using a montage of images of women's faces
to make up the letters. They state 'Abortion: last year
55,000 women turned to BPAS'. The posters also advertise
BPAS' Actionline number so women can call for information
It is the first time that the word 'abortion' has been used
so prominently to advertise an abortion service. In the
past, abortion services have more commonly been referred
to through use of terms like 'pregnancy advice'. Commenting
on the up-front approach, Ann Furedi, director of communications
for BPAS pointed out that it was time to break the still
existing taboo about the use of the word 'abortion'. She
'The posters break a long tradition where the 'A' word has
been avoided for fear of offending those who disapprove
of abortion. We believe it is time to break the taboo and
challenge the notion that abortion is a problem.'
'Abortion is simply a fact of life. Forty per cent of women
have one at some time. It's a necessary back-up to contraception
if women are to choose whether, or when, to have children.
Woman should not have to feel ashamed or apologetic about
needing abortion care, and we make no apologies for providing
it. Abortion can be a legal, moral and responsible solution
to an unwanted pregnancy. BPAS is proud to be Britain's
largest single abortion provider.'
An article in the Sunday Telegraph drew attention
to the 'outraged' response of anti-abortion groups to the
advert. In their comments, representatives of such groups
contended that women do not choose to have abortions, that
abortion services do not aim to help women, but rather to
'kill babies', and that the posters are unacceptable and
Jack Scarisbrick, director of Life claimed that the poster
was 'exploiting women's vulnerability'. He said 'Everyone
knows that abortion is nasty. They may say they want to
break the taboo of the A word but we know that woman do
not want to have abortions. They have abortions because
of other people'. Sarah Macken, the director of an anti-abortion
group called StudentLife Net argued 'They seem to be saying
abortion is normal. It is not a normal operation. It is
simply for the intention of killing alot of babies. It is
not acceptable to advertise this in the same way that you
would advertise make-up'. Bruno Quintavalle of the Pro-Life
Alliance said 'I find the BPAS poster extremely offensive.
They are not putting forward one side of the picture, they
are misrepresenting the horror of abortion'.
While Quintavalle described the posters as 'offensive',
he also argued that there is too much censorship of images
of abortion. The Prolife Alliance is waiting for a legal
ruling from Europe on whether a picture of a fetus could
be used in a party political broadcast, following the banning
of the Alliance's broadcast made for the 1997 General Election.
However, in a move that could lead to the removal of the
posters, Scarisbrick has said he is going to complain to
the Advertising Standards Authority. The Prolife Alliance
has chosen instead to ask the London Underground to put
up a similar-sized poster of an aborted 21-week fetus, presumably
on the grounds that the Alliance believes London Underground
should itself take an active role in the abortion debate.
Neil Byrne, a spokesman for London Underground defended
the decision to allow the poster to be displayed. He said
the poster had passed the stringent guidelines it lays down
for advertising. Commenting on the impossibility of offending
no-one, he said: 'They are entitled to advertise their services
as much as any business. Carrying as many people as we do,
three million a day, it is hard not to offend somebody.
When people submit posters we are aware that we carry large
numbers of very young and older people with different views'.
He added: 'We do turn people down, but we did not think
this was a distasteful poster. It is a service offering
pregnancy advice. It is shock tactics but it is within the
guidelines we find acceptable.'
The advert, and other information about BPAS can be found
on their website www.BPAS.org
Press release, 'Underground ads promote abortion care',
'Family planning group shatters 'A' word taboo'. The
Sunday Telegraph, 23/4/00