Should abortion ads air on television?

Commercials for "pregnancy advice services" might start airing in the U.K.

Published April 2, 2009 4:53PM (EDT)

Last week, the BBC reported that, following a review of advertising codes, "pregnancy advice services" could be allowed to advertise on U.K. television. Soon, British viewers might find themselves face to face with commercials for, among other options, abortion. The recommendation (which also suggested a loosening of regulations on condom ads) was made in response to the country's increasing teen pregnancy rates.

In an interview with the Guardian on Wednesday, Dana Hovig, the (male) chief executive of the reproductive health organization Marie Stopes International, talked about what the ads might entail. "The point is not to increase abortions -- we want to increase the number of women who are using family planning and taking control of their lives in that way -- but there is still a stigma, and if it can go on television then it will help de-stigmatise it," said Hovig. He also emphasized that the purpose of the commercials would not be to (redundantly) alert women to abortion's existence.

Now, I can see several potential pitfalls of airing abortion ads. No one wants to see pregnancy termination sold like blood-pressure medication: "Talk to your doctor and see if abortion is right for you!" And commercials touting prescription drugs and medical procedures are already undermining physicians' authority and straining the doctor-patient relationship. But, after reading Hovig's comments, I am cautiously optimistic. If the U.K. ads really would focus on destigmatizing abortion, then I'm all for them.

One major question the British proposal raises is this: Will we ever considering airing commercials for abortion services in the U.S.? Abortion is still among our most divisive issues, and organizations like NARAL and Planned Parenthood have bigger, more pressing battles to fight before agitating for TV time. Not to mention that the very idea that children could stumble upon such ads could fuel the Christian right's fire for the next decade. That said, I'm curious about what Broadsheet readers think. Should the U.K. air abortion ads? And could it -- or should it -- ever happen in the States?

By Judy Berman

Judy Berman is a writer and editor in Brooklyn. She is a regular contributor to Salon's Broadsheet.

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