The ASA received 1,054 complaints, plus a further 3,296 postcards which made up a petition organised by the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), and another petition with 63 signatures. In addition there were 327 pre-transmission complaints.
As some viewers objected that the TV ad carried a political message, because they believed the advertisers actively campaigned to change the law on abortion, the ASA referred those complaints to Ofcom.
Three women were featured in a TV ad for Marie Stopes International (MSI), a not-for-profit organisation which provided sexual and reproductive healthcare advice, information and services. First, a woman waiting at a bus stop, looking down the road,
with the onscreen text Jenny Evans is late ; then, a woman in a park with her two small children, with the text Katie Simmons is late ; and finally, a woman in a café, with the text Shareen Butler is late . A female voiceover
said: If you're late for your period, you could be pregnant. If you're pregnant and not sure what to do, Marie Stopes International can help . The end caption carried the text Are you late? , a phone number, and the website address.
Complainants included members of the public, GPs, people who offered counselling, MPs and other representatives, and MPs who forwarded their constituents' concerns.
The complainants objected that the ad was misleading, offensive and harmful and queried its compliance with specific Code rules.
1. Viewers objected that the ad was offensive because: it promoted abortion; of their religious beliefs; it trivialised the difficult decision faced by women experiencing an unwanted pregnancy; decisions about the life of an unborn child were being
equated to decisions about consumer goods; it would be distressing to those women who had taken the decision to have an abortion; it did not take into account the views of the father; it was sexist towards women by implying that the pregnancy was solely
the woman's responsibility; and by featuring a mother with her small children, it suggested that the life of an unborn child was less important than a woman's existing children.
2. Viewers objected that the ad was harmful because: the ad would encourage viewers to have an abortion when they had not previously considered that option; and, it would encourage promiscuity, especially amongst young people.
3. Viewers objected that the ad was misleading because: it promoted abortion, but did not make reference to the physical and mental health risks or physical and psychological effects which could be experienced after an abortion; the ad was illegally
offering abortion on demand; it implied that obtaining an abortion was easier than it was in reality; it failed to mention that pregnant women who wanted advice should contact their GPs or seek the advice of family members; and it was unclear what services
were on offer; some believed Marie Stopes offered a full range of advice about pregnancy, whilst others believed the advertisers were advocates for abortion.
Some viewers challenged whether MSI should be allowed to advertise on TV, because:
4. they believed MSI was a commercial company that charged for its services;
5. the ad promoted a Prescription Only Medicine (POM) or a medical procedure, which they believed was not permitted by the Code;
6. the ad was for a medicinal product aimed at children;
7. the ad offered a remote personal advice service on health matters, which they believed breached rule 8.1.3 of the Code relating to services offering remote personalised advice on medical or health matters or which offer to prescribe or treat
8. Some viewers objected to the scheduling of the ad at times when children might see it.
ASA Assessment: Not upheld
1. Not upheld
The ASA acknowledged that the issue of abortion was controversial and distasteful to some, and that the complainants had strong personal and religious objections to the advertising of abortion services, or services that gave advice about abortion.
We also noted that many complainants regarded the advertisers as advocates of abortion and therefore interpreted the ad as a promotion of abortion. However, the ad was for an advice service for women dealing with an unplanned pregnancy, and stated that
MSI could help women who were pregnant and not sure what to do . We understood that MSI provided a wide range of advisory and health services and advised on all options during consultations with clients. We noted that the ad did not focus on
any one particular service offered by MSI and did not mention abortion. We therefore considered it was an ad for a general pregnancy advice service for women who wished to learn about and discuss their options, which might include, but were not limited
We understood that post-conception decisions could be very difficult, but considered the ad dealt with the issue of possible pregnancy in an understated way and was not sensationalist. The women featured in the ad looked deep in thought, and we
did not therefore consider that the ad trivialised the dilemma of an unplanned pregnancy. Whilst the ad featured three women, we did not consider that it suggested that only the woman would be affected, or that she should take any decisions alone. We
did not consider that the ad focused on or advocated any particular choice or course of action over another, or put forward any assumptions about what the women would or should do. Whilst we recognised that any reminder of a difficult time, such as
an unplanned pregnancy, could evoke a response in someone directly affected, we considered that the ad was unlikely to cause serious or widespread offence on that basis.
2. Not upheld
We noted that the ad promoted a general advice line for women who were pregnant and not sure what to do, but did not explicitly mention or advocate abortion. We therefore did not consider that the ad promoted abortion or would encourage women to
contemplate one particular option above any other. We noted that the ad featured three different women of child-bearing age, but did not focus on their lifestyles or the circumstances of any particular pregnancy in any detail. We also noted that the
women were shown in everyday settings and were not presented in a glamorous way, and we did not consider that the ad would have a particular appeal to young people or encourage promiscuity. We therefore concluded that the ad that was not harmful.
3. Not upheld
We noted that the ad was directed at women who thought they might be pregnant. We considered that it was clear that the ad was promoting the Advice Line as a source of information for those women, and noted that it did not advocate one option over
another. We did not consider that it suggested that pregnant women should not consult their GP or family members for support or advice. We understood that MSI was a Pregnancy Advice Bureau (PAB) regulated by the Department of Health and, as a provider
of services on behalf of the NHS, were obliged to offer a range of advice on all the options available to pregnant women. We were satisfied that any callers to the Advice Line would be advised about the health implications of any intervention or procedure
which might be appropriate for her, in consultation with a qualified and regulated healthcare professional. We noted the ad did not refer to abortion and considered there was no evidence that MSI offered abortion on demand, in conflict with the law.
4. Not upheld
We understood that Marie Stopes charged private clients for its services, but that NHS-referred clients did not pay fees. We understood that MSI was a charity registered with the Charity Commission and revenue derived from its fees was not for profit,
but was used to support charitable works directly related to post-conception advice and services, as well as family planning, contraception and other sexual and reproductive health related issues. We considered that the ad promoted a non-commercial
advice service, and therefore concluded that MSI was permitted to advertise that service on TV under the Code.
5. & 6. Not upheld
We noted the ad was for MSIs general pregnancy advisory service, and that it did not refer to any medicinal product or medical treatment. We therefore considered that the ad did not promote a POM or medical procedure.
In addition, we did not consider that the content of the ad was directly targeted at children, or would have a particular appeal to children. We therefore concluded that the ad was not in breach of the Code on these points.
7. Not upheld
We noted that rule 8.3.1 of the BCAP Television Advertising Code stated that ads for services offering remote personalised advice on medical or health matters were only acceptable where that advice was provided by staff who were regulated by a statutory
or recognised medical or health professional body. We understood MSI operated within a clear regulatory structure supervised by government. We also understood that any caller who contacted the MSI Advice Line, and who wanted specific advice on which
healthcare option might be most appropriate for her, would only receive advice on medical and health matters from a registered nurse or qualified counsellor. Because we understood that the advice was only provided by staff who were subject to regulation
by statutory or recognised medical or health professional bodies, we did not consider that the ad was in breach of rule 8.1.3 of the Code.
8. Not upheld
We noted that the ad had been given an ex-kids timing restriction, which meant it should not be shown on dedicated childrens channels, or in or around those programmes on other channels made for, or specifically targeted at, children. We considered
that that restriction was sufficient to keep the ad away from times when younger children were likely to be watching TV alone. We did not consider that the ad needed to be kept away from times when older children would be watching TV, and therefore
concluded that the ex-kids timing restriction that had been imposed was sufficient.