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The BBC Let Down Women On Abortion

Institution Says Issue is too ‘Contentious’

Update: On February 15 the BBC updated its website to provide a link to an NHS page which gives information on abortion in all the home nations, bar Northern Ireland
People heading to BBC Action Line for information about accessing safe abortion following the death of a character in Call the Midwife – a television drama set in the 1950s which also airs in the US – couldn’t find anything.

This failure to provide information about abortion on its resource website appears to derive from some mistaken idea of “balance.”

After the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) flagged the problem, the BBC said it couldn’t give information about abortion without appearing to take sides on a “contentious” issue.

It is disingenuous of the BBC to use the risks and consequences of illegal abortion as a plot point in a television show, but fail to help people find out how to access safe abortion to avoid those risks.

Abortion has been legal in England and Wales since 1967, but in a statement following the complaints, the BBC said they would have to refer people to “campaigning organizations,” implying these groups are taking sides on a political issue rather than providing information about a legal medical procedure.

This excuse came despite the fact that a quick search reveals a National Health Service (NHS) fact sheet on abortion – a state institution which provides 98% of legal abortions in the UK. People have a basic right to health and to information about health – including reproductive health and abortion.

The BBC’s Action Line website is supposed to give people information about issues raised in BBC programs. On the Call the Midwife’s page, they offer “Information and Support” on a host of “Pregnancy related issues”: NHS Advice, which links to general pregnancy advice; Health and Wellbeing; Infertility; Pre and Postnatal Illness; Premature Birth, Miscarriage, and Still Birth; and Child Bereavement. But not abortion.

A collection of women’s healthcare groups, including the BPAS, wrote to the BBC on Valentine’s day, asking for the decision to be reversed. Since then so many complaints have been filed, the BBC’s complaints website temporarily crashed.

The BBC is treating access to abortion like a dramatic device and not what it is – a healthcare issue and part of a human right to health affecting countless people who will be let down if institutions continue to fail to provide basic health information.

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