Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the Advertising Standards Authority.
Post Conception Advice Services (PCAS) offer a range of services to women, including advice on health and well-being, contraception and the provision of ultrasound services, as well as advice about whether to continue with a pregnancy or have a termination.
The Health and Social Care Act 2008 requires PCAS providers that provide certain family planning services, other than counselling or advice, to be registered with the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and the Secretary of State for Health maintains a list of approved Pregnancy Advice Bureaux (PABx). Other than GPs, family planning clinics and sexual health clinics, only PABx registered in this way can refer women for a termination. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists advises that the earlier in pregnancy a termination is performed, the lower the risk of complications.
The nature of the service offered should be made clear
In 2012, the CAP Code was amended to state “Marketing communications for services offering advice on unplanned pregnancy must make clear if the service does not refer women directly for a termination. Given that terminations are lawful only in some circumstances, and are subject to particularly stringent requirements in Northern Ireland, marketers may wish to seek legal advice” (Rule 12.24). This means that those PCAS that offer advice on unplanned pregnancy, that cannot directly refer women for a termination, must make that clear in their ads.
In 2013, the ASA upheld the first complaint investigated under rule 12.24, about a website that stated “Considering Abortion? For an Immediate Appointment: Fill in our online booking form or call us.” It ruled that the ad breached the Code because it did not make clear that the service could not refer women directly for a termination. The ASA also considered that the ad was irresponsible, because women seeking a termination might be unnecessarily delayed by contacting the advertiser under the false impression that the organisation was an abortion clinic and would offer impartial advice (Central London Women’s Centre, 18 September 2013). Similarly, in 2014, the ASA upheld a complaint about an ad that stated “Pregnant? Worried? We can help… on-line counselling…” because it did not make clear that the service would not refer women for terminations (LIFE 2009 t/a LIFE, 18 June 2014).
Ads for pro-choice clinics must not mislead
Pro-choice clinics need not explicitly state in their advertisements the pro-choice nature of their service or advice but nothing, including the context in which the ad appears, should mislead the consumer about the nature of the services on offer. In 2001, the ASA received a complaint about the use of the word “choice” in a Marie Stopes ad. The complainant believed “choice” was misleading because the advertiser offered only abortion advice. The ASA considered that the ad, which claimed “Abortion Help and Advice … when you’ve made your choice you can trust us …” was unlikely to mislead in the way suggested. However, in 2011, the ASA upheld a complaint about an ad that appeared under the search listing for “Abortion Clinics”. The ad stated “Considering Abortion? Free Pregnancy Testing Information & Advisory Service… Quick & Confidential Morning After?” The complainant objected, and the ASA agreed, that the ad misleadingly implied that the advertiser would offer impartial advice on abortions (Albany Women’s Centre, 6 July 2011).
Whilst some may find ads for PCAS distasteful, simply because of the service on offer, in 2004 the ASA rejected a complaint about a poster that appeared on London buses and stated “Unwanted Pregnancy? Sympathetic, straightforward advice on terminating an unwanted pregnancy …” The complainant believed the ad was unsuitable for display where it could be seen by children and was likely to offend and distress women who had recently had an abortion but the ASA disagreed.
In the past, some ads have attracted criticism on the grounds that they irresponsibly promote abortion to vulnerable young women. However, as long as marketers use factual, unemotive language and do not suggest abortion (or the morning-after pill) can be used in place of more suitable and responsible precautions, ads are unlikely to breach the Code. See Contraceptives: General