BBC bows to pressure and drops ban on giving abortion advice

The BBC has caved to pressure and has dropped a ban on giving abortion advice after a row sparked by Call The Midwife. 

Government ministers intervened after a topical episode featured a backstreet termination but no advice was offered to viewers on BBC’s Action Line.

The BBC initially refused to offer abortion information because the issue was too ‘contentious’ and treated it as a political matter, a health charity claimed.

But womens and equalities minister Penny Mordaunt and health minister Jackie Doyle-Price wrote to the broadcaster to complain about its decision, according to the Sunday Times.

Viewers were left highly emotional over an episode of Call the Midwife which saw Cath (pictured) become gravely ill following a backstreet abortion

Viewers were left highly emotional over an episode of Call the Midwife which saw Cath (pictured) become gravely ill following a backstreet abortion

Viewers were left highly emotional over an episode of Call the Midwife which saw Cath (pictured) become gravely ill following a backstreet abortion

And more than 100 MPs wrote a letter to BBC director general Lord Hall criticising the decision to ‘withhold information about women’s reproductive healthcare services which have been legal and have been part of the NHS for over 50 years’.

On Friday, the BBC bowed to pressure and and provided a link to an NHS page offering advice.  

Claire McCarthy, of charity Right to Life told the newspaper it was ‘disappointing’ that the BBC had given in to ‘tactics from pressure groups’. 

The BBC initially responded to fears saying it could not refer viewers to help without sending them to organisations which ‘take a particular stance’ on abortion, something it could not do given the contentious nature of the issue.     

Pro-choice charity British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) claims the public broadcaster excluded medical advice because doing so would ‘imply the BBC supported one side or the other’ in the abortion debate.

The charity has said that by treating the procedure as a political rather than medical issue, the corporation has already become partisan. 

Midwives, obstetricians and family planning professionals have taken issue with the BBC’s approach. 

Medical professionals have wrote to the BBC with concerns, and BPAS has claimed the broadcaster is mistakenly treating abortion as a fraught political matter which stigmatises the medical professionals involved.

Clare Murphy, a director at BPAS, told the Press Association: ‘By excluding information about abortion, which is the most common gynaecological procedure in the UK, the BBC is treating abortion as a political, rather than a medical issue.

‘It implies that abortion is different to all other clinical procedures, rather than the routine part of NHS-funded women’s healthcare that it is today. This in turn stigmatises both the medical professionals involved in abortion services and of course the women they care for.’

BPAS wrote to the BBC raising concerns over the lack of advice on abortion for viewers seeking help.

The BBC told the Sunday Times they had update their website and ‘regret any upset caused’. 

After the episode the BBC failed to offer any advice on abortion and when asked later said they had chosen not to because the issue is 'contentious'

After the episode the BBC failed to offer any advice on abortion and when asked later said they had chosen not to because the issue is 'contentious'

After the episode the BBC failed to offer any advice on abortion and when asked later said they had chosen not to because the issue is ‘contentious’

The BBC often provides information on issues which may affect its audience on the Action Line site, where viewers can usually find advice and signposts to organisations which can offer help.

For abortion, BPAS has claimed, there was no advice available, even after an episode of Call The Midwife on Sunday February 3rd dealing directly with the issue.

The Royal College of Midwives and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists are among the medical groups who have signed a letter to the BBC on Valentine’s Day raising concerns over the omission of abortion advice.

Responding to the concerns of the medical community, a spokesman for the BBC said: ‘Abortion is a controversial subject across the UK, but there’s no reason why the BBC cannot link to advice sites which provide information on it.

‘BBC Action line advice around Call The Midwife links to a number of sources of pregnancy advice and information, including the NHS website, which includes information about abortion.’

BPAS has said that no direct help or advice on abortion was offered to viewers after issues were raised in BBC programming.

The BBC has said it cannot provide links to groups which are seen to be campaigning in the abortion debate. 

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