BY MARK GREAVES
BISHOP PATRICK O’Donoghue of Lancaster has described plans to allow abortion clinics to advertise on television and radio as a “hammer blow” to the sanctity of life in Britain.
The proposals, announced by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), include allowing condom advertising to be shown before the 9pm watershed. They are part of a broader re-writing of the advertising codes and are subject to a 12-week consultation that ends on June 19.
The proposals would also allow pro-life groups to advertise but only if they made clear that their services did not include abortion. The changes were recommended by the Independent Advisory Group on Sexual Health and HIV, set up to advise the Government in 2003.
Bishop O’Donoghue said the proposal on abortion was “deeply damaging”. He said: “I am appalled that this proposal will result in the deaths of many more pre-born children and cause untold harm to women.
“As a society, we need to wake up and stop treating abortion as a quickfix solution to pregnancy and offer compassionate and practical support to women facing crisis pregnancies.” Bishop O’Donoghue pointed to the Cardinal Winning Pro-Life Initiative in Glasgow, which supports women facing crisis pregnancies, as a “shining example” of the Church’s work.
He added: “The killing of the innocent can never be a genuine solution to a problem. I urge all those who care about the sanctity of human life to voice their opposition to this proposal with one voice.” Bishop O’Donoghue’s comments came amid a storm of protest from MPs and pro-life groups.
John Smeaton, the national director of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children said it would “further commercialise the killing of unborn children”.
He said: “Agencies with a financial interest in abortion will be in a position to buy expensive broadcast advertising, whereas groups which provide objective information about abortion and its impact on women’s health will be unlikely be able to afford to advertise.
“What sort of culture are we handing on the next generation, where condoms and killing babies are offered alongside cornflakes and washing powder? We should try to be a culture of life and responsibility, not a culture of death and promiscuity.” Tory MP Nadine Dorries said the adverts were unlikely to convey any of the distress and trauma involved in having an abortion.
She said: “I object to the fact that this procedure will be advertised on TV in a manner that states that this is an inconsequential, easy to obtain, no-problem procedure. Actually it is a very important procedure. It ends life and carries consequences.” Ann Widdecombe, the former Tory Minister, said the proposal made abortion seem “just like any other consumer product” rather than “an extremely serious business”.
She said: “We’ve never had such a high rate of teenage pregnancy and we also have never had so much sex education and talking about freely available contraception. If you keep on hammering home these messages to children then all you will do is get them interested in sex, and that there is a safe way of doing it. But for a child there never is.”
The proposal to allow condoms to be advertised more widely follows growing concern that the Government’s Teenage Pregnancy Strategy has had little impact on teenage pregnancy rates. The Nursing Times last week even questioned whether the Government’s strategy had actually made the situation worse.
Prof David Paton, an economist at Nottingham University Business School who has published widely on the economics of teenage pregnancy, said rates had risen since the strategy was launched in 1999.
He said lowering the risk of pregnancy by improving access to contraception, the morning-after pill and abortion “may encourage more young people to engage in sexual activity”.
He said that even if the pregnancy rate decreased among teenagers who had sex, the growing number of sexually active teenagers would mean a similar number of pregnancies overall. He also pointed to research that showed a link between increased access to birth control and higher rates of sexually transmitted infections among teenagers.
Prof Paton said: “All health professionals (and indeed taxpayers) should question the wisdom of Primary Care Trusts spending scarce resources on measures such as school-based provision of EBC [emergency birth control] that, at best, are ineffective and, at worst, may actually be contributing to poor sexual health among teenagers.”