By Hilary White

LONDON, August 4, 2010 ( – After receiving over 5000 complaints, the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has declared that TV ads promoting the abortionist group Marie Stopes International were not offensive and that the ASA “was justified” in allowing them to be aired in May and June.

After an internal investigation, the ASA has announced that the ad did not break the rules in its code. While acknowledging that the issue was “controversial and distasteful for some,” the ASA claimed in response to specific complaints that the ad did not trivialise unplanned pregnancy, did not suggest that only the woman would be affected and, despite the massive number of complaints, concluded that it would not cause widespread offence. The ASA further denied that the ad would encourage promiscuity.

The ads were approved through a loophole in the rules. Although advertisements for commercial abortion services are prohibited, Marie Stopes was allowed to go ahead on the grounds that the abortionist group is classified as a charity.

The ASA revealed that complainants had said the ad promoted abortion, offended religious beliefs, trivialised abortion and, by depicting women facing abortion alone, did not take into account the views of the father. The ASA decided that, despite complaints that Marie Stopes is one of the world’s largest abortion advocacy organisations, the ad did not constitute abortion propaganda. They identified Marie Stopes as an “advice service for women dealing with unplanned pregnancy”.

“We 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 to, abortion,” the ASA statement said.

The ad shows women apparently contemplating an unexpected pregnancy while a voiceover says, “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.”

Although the ASA received 1,054 complaints about the ads, and a further 3,296 postcards as part of a petition organised by the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), the body has refused to rescind their approval. The ad aired in May and June and have ranked as the seventh most complained-about in the ASA’s history.

Pro-life groups were outraged at the statement. A spokesman for the ProLife Alliance said, “It is erroneous to conclude that Marie Stopes is exempt from the Advertising Standards Code’s prohibition of commercial services offering individual advice on personal or consumer problems because it is a not-for-profit organisation. MSI charges private clients for its services.”

The pro-life charity Life said, “As Marie Stopes is Britain’s largest abortion provider, to claim that the ad does not promote their abortion service is disingenuous to say the least.”

Paul Tully, SPUC general secretary, commented, “Advertising abortion, whether directly or under the guise of so-called pregnancy advice, is indecent and dishonest.” Tully pointed out that Marie Stopes is one of the biggest abortion-providers in the UK.

“The ASA says the ad is not offensive, thus ignoring the fundamental nature of the ad’s message which is: ‘We can kill unborn babies’. This message is just as offensive as saying, ‘We can kill immigrants’, ‘We can kill paedophiles’ or targeting any other disparaged group. It is simply casuistic of the ASA to hold that the ad isn’t advertising abortion.”

Tully pointed out that the ASA is not a statutory authority, and that “As an industry-based group, it is free to reflect the views of the broadcasters and publishers who want lucrative advertising deals.”

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