BCAP consultation on advertising of post-contraception services

In the current climate of concerted attacks on abortion rights, this is particularly important:

BCAP (Broadcasting Committee of Advertising Practice) is consulting on proposals for the regulation of broadcast advertisements for post-conception advice services (PCAS).

What are the current advertising rules on post-conception advice services?

PCAS that are run on a not-for-profit (charitable) basis are already permitted to advertise on TV and radio subject to certain restrictions such as NHS or Local Health Authority approval or the ability to demonstrate appropriate credentials.
Commercially-based PCAS are currently prevented from advertising on television by the general rule prohibiting advertising for commercial services offering individual advice on personal or consumer problems.
Both commercial and charitable family planning centres may advertise on radio, but only if they have appropriate local authority or NHS approval.

What are BCAP’s proposals?

BCAP proposes to change the current advertising rules by introducing the following changes:

• Removing the television rule preventing commercial services offering personal advice from advertising.

• Removing the radio rule permitting advertising only by those Family Planning Centres (FPCs) with local authority or NHS approval.

• Introducing a new rule applying to both television and radio requiring medical and health advice services to provide suitable credentials before being able to advertise;

• Introducing a new rule to require services offering post-conception advice on pregnancy that do not directly refer women for a termination to make that fact clear in their advertisements.

What are PCAS?

PCAS offer a range of post-conception services to women, including for example advice on health and well-being, provision of ultrasound services, as well as advice about women’s choice to continue with their pregnancy or to have a termination. PCAS are made available to the public in a number of ways and through a variety of different organisations, including the NHS, voluntary sector and commercial organisations.

NHS-accredited PCAS must provide a full range of impartial advice to women about all available options including termination. Other advice services, which for various reasons (ethical/religious) do not offer advice on termination may also advertise.

So far as my own observations go, this seems to be a welcome and sensible move but…

1. It applies only to broadcast advertising on TV and Radio when, at the very least, the new rule on disclosure of position on referrals for abortion should apply to the CAP code, which covers print advertising and websites.

2. The statement on referrals could be somewhat stronger and require advertisers to set out their general position on abortion in addition to whether or not they make referrals. There is a risk here of anti-abortion organisations trying to skirt around this rule by operating an ‘only as a last resort’ policy on referrals or taking a ‘referrals only back to GP’ approach as a delaying tactic. How useful this rule will prove to be will depend very much on how its interpreted by the ASA in practice and, in particular, whether they will be prepared to regard evidence of organisations imposing an unreasonable delay in making referrals as amount to a breach of this new rule.

3. The new rule on providing ‘suitable credentials’ may prove interesting in practice as I suspect the issue what exactly counts as ‘suitable credentials’ may be hotly contested.

As yet, none of the anti-abortion organisations I keep an eye on have published any responses or ‘guidance’ in regards to these rules although its safe to assume that submissions from that quarter will, at the very least, seek to exclude all abortion-related advertising and we may also see submissions on the issues of credentials and referrals which seek to create a bit of wiggle room for anti-abortion groups and CPCs to continue to promote their ‘services’ without being forced into disclosing their actual position on abortion.

As such, the consultation does need a strong pro-choice response, particularly in support of the referral measure which, despite its limitations, will provide some much needed transparency and I think the point also needs to be made, very strongly, that this particular measure should also be added to the CAP code for print/internet advertising and direct marketing.

The consultation closes on 8 August 2011.