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Image / Editorial

‘Contentious’: BBC caught up in Call the Midwife abortion row


by Jennifer McShane
14th Feb 2019
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Healthcare organisations in the UK have called on the BBC to reverse their “stigmatising” decision to not provide information about abortion.

The BBC has been criticised for not linking directly to information on abortion after the issue was dealt with in an episode of Call the Midwife.

Critics and viewers said the issue itself was dealt with very sensitively on the show; the criticism came when the broadcaster hadn’t any advice relating on abortion on their BBC Action Line website, which it advertised after the episode aired.

Doctors, midwives and pro-choice charities highlighted the issue after the BBC’s Action Line website was advertised after the programme aired.

In a joint letter from the Royal College of Midwives, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Marie Stopes UK, the sexual health advice service Brook and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) praised the programme for having “repeatedly handled this issue sensitively and courageously.”

But they said that people visiting the Action Line website found that abortion was not explicitly mentioned which they felt only served to stigmatise the issue for women.

A “contentious” issue

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service raised concerns about the omission, and the BBC said it had chosen not to include abortion because it was “contentious” and it did not want to be seen as “supporting one side”.

“It isn’t possible for the BBC Action Line to offer support for abortion and similarly contentious issues without referring people either to campaigning organisations which take a particular stance on an issue or to organisations which provide it,” said a spokesperson, according to the letter.

“Doing so could imply the BBC supported one side or another in any contentious issue which it does not do in its coverage.”

“Highly stigmatising”

“Abortion is not a ‘contentious issue’ – it is a routine part of NHS-funded healthcare, provided by doctors, nurses, and midwives every day in hospitals and clinics across the country,” the UK groups said in response.

“In barring information the BBC is in effect ‘supporting one side’ by treating abortion as different to all the other medical procedures and conditions the BBC chooses to include. This is highly stigmatising for the healthcare professionals we represent and the women we care for.”

“A number of episodes of Call the Midwife have detailed the dangerous impact a lack of abortion care and information can cause and we absolutely welcome and applaud this,” they continued.

“But, featuring content of this type makes It especially important that the website offers information and support for the issues covered. We ask that you amend the current policy as a matter of urgency, as we are aware women are currently visiting your website for advice on abortion, and include links to evidence-based, impartial information.”