21/05/2010

First Abortion Commercial Halted In NI

A revolution in TV advertising is to bypass a regional broadcaster.

Channel 4 has blocked the UK's first television commercial for abortion services from being aired in Northern Ireland, where abortion is still illegal.

Britain's first television commercial featuring advice on terminating unplanned pregnancies is being screened on Channel 4, with the station allowing both its continuing broadcast and at the same time, making the decision not to screen it in NI.

A spokeswoman for the channel said the advert is compliant with Broadcast Committee on Advertising Practice (BCAP's) Advertising Standards Code.

"Subject to an advert being cleared for broadcast under the code, we are prepared to transmit it in an appropriate time slot; we believe it is up to viewers to form their own judgements about the content and messages that advertising contains," she said.

However, according to Marie Stopes International (MSI), in 2008 1,173 women travelled to England from Northern Ireland for an abortion, yet that hasn't stopped the UK's fourth channel from blocking transmission in NI - because abortion is still illegal in the province. Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where the 1967 Abortion Act does not apply.
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All of the political parties in the Stormont Assembly, except the Progressive Unionists, are opposed to the extension of the act to Northern Ireland.

Anti-abortion groups in Northern Ireland said they welcomed the implementation of legislation blocking the ad from being broadcast, but they were angry that it would be screened elsewhere in the UK.

However, a leading sexual health charity based in Belfast said it was another example of how women in the province were treated differently to the rest of the UK.

The Family Planning Association said it highlighted the need to decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland.

The ad, which is part of the 'Are you late?' campaign by MSI, will now air on Channel 4 until the end of this month.

Dana Hovig, MSI's Chief Executive, said: "It's a shame that we are not allowed to screen the commercial in Northern Ireland – abortion continues to be severely restricted there and women in Northern Ireland are forced to travel to England for abortion services.

"Therefore the advertising of abortion facilities, their contact numbers or addresses is against the law in Northern Ireland."

Dr Audrey Simpson, Director of Northern Ireland for the Family Planning Association, said: "I think a lot of people would say it is inappropriate to use this ad on television because it would encourage women to have abortions.

"They use the argument that if you give people information it encourages them to go and do something. But women already have access to that information."

(BMcC/GK)

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