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Women’s healthcare bodies call on BBC to reverse stance on abortion information

  • Following last week’s episode of Call the Midwife, a group of women’s healthcare bodies have today written to BBC Action Line to ask that they reverse their decision to exclude links to abortion information on their website.
  • The BBC Action Line website provides signposting for viewers seeking support on issues covered in their programmes, including miscarriage, substance abuse, gambling and gender identity.
  • However, the BBC has declined to include information on abortion because they believe it is a “contentious issue” and doing so might “imply the BBC supported one side or another.”
  • The issue emerged after the charity bpas was contacted by women who had sought advice from the website, following an episode of Call the Midwife in which a character died from a “backstreet” abortion.
  • The healthcare groups said that while they “applaud” the programme itself, they are “disappointed” by BBC Action Line’s stance, stating that it that risks stigmatising healthcare professionals and the women they care for, and is based on a “misunderstanding” of women’s lives.

A group of healthcare bodies have today published a letter to BBC Action Line asking that they reverse their current stance on providing links to information about abortion. The letter is co-signed by British Pregnancy Advisory Service (bpas), Brook, the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare, Family Planning Association (FPA), Marie Stopes UK, the Royal College of Midwives, and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

The issue emerged following last week’s episode of Call the Midwife in which one of the characters died as a result of complications from an illegal “backstreet” abortion.  At the end of the programme, the BBC Action Line website was advertised for viewers who wished to seek information and support for issues covered in the programme. A number of women who visited the website contacted the charity the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, bpas, to highlight that there were no sources of advice relating to abortion.

In response to bpas, who raised their concerns about the omission of abortion support, BBC Action Line stated that they had chosen to not include abortion because it is “contentious” and including this information could 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.

Doing so could imply the BBC supported one side or another in any contentious issue which it does not do in its coverage. However, as the current storyline in Call the Midwife also raises issues of miscarriage, pregnancy related depression and bereavement, it was felt that support should be offered for viewers who might be affected.”

Today, healthcare bodies have written to the BBC expressing their “disappointment” and asking that they amend this position:

“Abortion has been legal, in certain circumstances, in Great Britain for over 50 years, and 98% of terminations are funded by the NHS. Abortion is the most common gynaecological procedure in the UK, and one in three women will have an abortion in their lifetime. Polling demonstrates that the vast majority of the public support a woman’s right to choose, including those with a religious belief. 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 BBC Action Line response states that including links to information about abortion could imply the BBC “supported one side or another.” However, 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 choses to include. This is highly stigmatising for the healthcare professionals we represent and the women we care for.”

The healthcare bodies have provided links to evidence-based, impartial information for the BBC to consider, and stressed that their complaint lies solely with BBC Action Line and is in no way related to the programme Call the Midwife, which they state has repeatedly handled this issue “extremely sensitively and courageously.”


For further information please call 0207 061 3377, 07788 725 185 or email press@bpas.org

The full letter and original response from BBC Action Line is available online here https://www.bpas.org/media/3103/letter-to-bbc-action-line.pdf

Notes to Editors:

About bpas

bpas is a charity which sees more than 80,000 women a year and provides reproductive healthcare services including pregnancy counselling, abortion care, miscarriage management and contraception, at clinics across the UK. It supports and advocates for reproductive choice. More information can be found at bpas.org