Our Lady of the Wayside

Our Lady of the Wayside
Protect Expectant Mothers and Their Babies


Thursday 23 September 2010

Advertising Standards Authority: Don't call Pro-life Help Real Help

Despite rejecting more than 5,000 complaints against Marie Stopes International for promoting abortion on TV, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has gone on to bowdlerise a Pro-Life advertisement on the London Underground.
The Good Counsel Network recently placed an advert in London tube stations to reach women in crisis pregnancies and offer them help, as part of their Maria Stops Abortion Campaign. But once the advert copy was submitted to the company who deals with much of the advertising on the Tube, they referred it to the Advertising Standards Authority’s Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) to ensure that it didn’t breach the Advertising Standards Code.
CAP’s first response warned that the use of the name “Maria Stops Abortion” could mean that the poster was seen as denigrating Marie Stopes International. Phrases in the Pro-life ad such as “Find Real Help” and “We really can help” were read as attacking Marie Stopes' failure to provide help. The Good Counsel Network immediately agreed to remove this text from the ad. We felt it was better to get the ad up quickly than to spend months wrangling about the text Maria Stops Abortion being in it or not.
CAP had stated that:
“Because the [ad] mentions ‘Find real help’ and ‘we really can help’ in relation to the Maria Stops Abortion copy [this] would be seen as a claim that a competitor cannot help. We would advise removing the relevant words ‘real’ help/ we ‘really’ can help. They could say ‘find help’ and ‘we can help’ in order to position their service in a less critical manner.”
I then phoned CAP and assured them that “Maria Stops Abortion” was being removed from the advert. I was suprised to find that CAP officials, however, continued to claim that Marie Stopes was still being denigrated by the ad, even though it no longer mentioned them at all!
Tom Marshall, a copy advisor with CAP said that their concerns about the terms, "Find real help" and "We really can help" remained the same as before. He insisted that we were clearly criticising Marie Stopes. Actually, as I pointed out, nothing in the advert referred to Marie Stopes at all. But Mr Marshall replied, "They are your main competitor".
Why should our ad be seen as having a go at MS not for example BPAS or another abortion provider? He replied that due to recent events such as the Marie Stopes TV ad and the furore it caused, people would assume that Marie Stopes were being criticised for a failure to provide genuine help to women in crisis pregnancies.”

Why they were so protective of Marie Stopes I did not know, but a quick look at the ASA's adjudication on the Marie Stopes TV ad helped me to understand. It shows that they have passed that ad accepting Marie Stopes' claim that:
"The ad did not encourage, promote or advocate abortion, but raised awareness about MSIs 24-hour Advice Line, which provided information about sexual health and all pregnancy choices, including, but not limited to, abortion."

The ASA adjudication states:
"We understood that MSI was a Pregnancy Advice Bureau (PAB) regulated by the Department of Health and, as a provider of services on behalf of the NHS, were obliged to offer a range of advice on all the options available to pregnant women."
and again:
"We also noted that many complainants regarded the advertisers as advocates of abortion and therefore interpreted the ad as a promotion of abortion. However, the ad was for an advice service for women dealing with an unplanned pregnancy, and stated that MSI could help women who were "pregnant and not sure what to do". We understood that MSI provided a wide range of advisory and health services and advised on all options during consultations with clients. We noted that the ad did not focus on any one particular service offered by MSI and did not mention abortion. We therefore considered it was an ad for a general pregnancy advice service for women who wished to learn about and discuss their options, which might include, but were not limited to, abortion."
Unfortunately, several recent calls I made to MSI's Helpline (sic) have shown that their operators were unable to provide the number of even one UK based pregnancy help centre. I was given the name of Sidelines (a USA pregnancy centre) but then told "Oh sorry that's not in this country". On another call though I stressed that I was calling for a woman who was under pressure to abort and had serious money problems, the operator repeatedly tried to send me to the Family Planning Association, Brooks Advisory Centre or Connexions. Presumably because these agents of death were the only people she had numbers for.
Understandably enough, for as Our Lord said:
Every kingdom divided against itself, shall be brought to desolation, and house upon house shall fall. And if Satan also be divided against himself, how shall his kingdom stand? (Luke 11:17-18)
See the ASA Adjudication on Marie Stopes here
Despite their own and the Advertising Standards Authorities assurances to the contrary, Marie Stopes International were totally unable to refer me for any help when I requested help for a woman wanting to keep her baby in the face of homelessness, pressure from others or debts.
It seems ridiculous that the ASA considers it’s role in this case to protect Marie Stopes against any imagined attack on it. Once the text Maria Stops Abortion was removed from our ad there was no reason for anyone to take any thing in the ad as an attack on Marie Stopes. The emphasis on REAL help was aimed at women who have real practical needs such as financial problems or nowhere to live. In our experience these women expect that they will be offered tea and sympathy but no concrete help.
We hope we have still managed to get this across despite the censorship.

You can see the text of the advert before and after censorship below. Changes have been highlighted in bold.

The Original Text of the Advert:
Find real help and support in a crisis pregnancy, today. Whatever the problem is, we really can help
The Good Counsel Network is a Catholic, Pro-Life group based in London. We provide friendship, creative solutions, real practical help and support to women in crisis pregnancies and afterwards, regardless of their beliefs, nationality, legal status etc.
This advert is part of the Maria Stops Abortion Campaign

The Bowdlerised Version
Find the help and support you may need in a crisis pregnancy today. Whatever the problem is, we can help.
The Good Counsel Network is a Catholic, Pro-Life group based in London. We provide
friendship, creative solutions, practical help and support to women in crisis
pregnancies and afterwards, regardless of their beliefs, nationality, legal status etc.
Blessed Virgin Mary, Pray for us!

Clare McCullough


  1. Isn't the whole point of advertising to promote your unique selling point to the detriment of your competition? Anyone remember "Take the Pepsi Challenge"? The whole point was to get people to think it tasted better than Coke. I don't remember any comments from the ASA about that one.

  2. It appears that in addition to other feeble excuses, the ASA justify their decision on the basis of their 'understanding' of matters. eg.'We understood that MSI provided a wide range of advisory and health services and advised on all options during consultations with clients' etc. From your post it appears that this is not the case, and that the ASA's understanding is therefore based on a false premise.Can formal complaint be made to Dept of Health (regulator)and the NHS that MSI is not complying with regulations? Regarding the advert, it looks great! As you say, pity about the compulsory alterations - but well done anyway!

  3. I was wondering about challenging the decision on those grounds.Mind you my previous experience of the ASA is they will just drop that bit from the reasons why they made their decision, but say it still stands for the other reasons given. But a complaint to the NHS is worth thinking about, I wonder if anyone out there would like to take up that project?


Join Us In Prayer And Fasting