Give them enough rope

However wrong and despicable the ProLife Alliance party political broadcast might be, it is more wrong for the BBC to ban it.

Ann Furedi

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Topics Politics

Anti-abortion activists seem to have made a calculated decision that the best way to gain publicity is by going to court.

Stephen Hone, the chap who recently appealed to the courts, first to prevent his girlfriend having an abortion and then to secure rights to the fetal tissue, was supported by ‘pro-life’ campaigners. In April 2001 the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children appealed to the High Court, to order a judicial review, arguing that emergency after-sex contraception causes abortion, and therefore contravenes the Offences Against the Persons Act and should be subject to the restrictions of the abortion law.

Now we have seen the ProLife Alliance’s unsuccessful appeal to the High Court to overturn a ruling by the BBC that will prevent them showing their party political broadcast.

There is a good reason for the resort to court. Anti-abortion activists are so few in number, and so marginal to any meaningful social policy discussion, that a contrived stunt is about the only way they can make their voices heard. Without this little fracas with the BBC, the ProLife Alliance’s election campaign would probably have passed unnoticed, even by those who live in a constituency where a ProLife Alliance candidate is destined to lose his deposit.

Abortion is simply not an issue in this election. Even many anti-abortion campaigners think the notion of running a candidate on a ‘pro-life ticket’ is a waste of time. Following the recent trashing of the relatively engaging and articulate research director of Life in the Preston byelection, Life supporters published letters begging that the same mistake should not be made again. They know they are on the margins, and votes expose that.

So in many ways it is a shame that the BBC has chosen to wade in and provide the ProLife Alliance with an opportunity that amplifies its squeaks of outrage about a legal medical procedure that most people regard as acceptable. It is also a shame that, by banning a party political broadcast, the BBC also forces some of us who consider the ProLife Alliance to be vile scum to defend their right to put their case in the way they choose.

I understand that the BBC’s objection to the ProLife Alliance election broadcast, which was due to be screened in Wales, was that some images did not comply with its code on taste and decency. No prizes for guessing what these images are. At the last general election the same organisation had the same debate over a broadcast that showed graphic images of fetuses aborted at late gestations. I saw the uncut version and I have seen many others like it produced by similar organisations. They are horrible and disturbing, but they should not be banned.

As a potential voter I believe candidates should be able to put their case to me in the way they want to put it. Let me be the arbiter of what is tasteful and decent, and let me reward the candidate with my vote or contempt accordingly. The fact that ProLife Alliance want to flaunt harrowing images tells us as much about their contempt for women as their actual arguments.

The medium is part of the message, and individuals standing for election should have the right to put their message across. As voters we should have the right to witness it as they want it to be seen,­ not a sanitised version that the BBC finds acceptable.

In any case, the measure of taste and decency is dangerously subjective. What offends me about the broadcast is not the images, but that it wrongly claims that they represent ‘the truth’ about abortion.

The truth of the matter is this. The 180,000 women who have abortions in Britain each year know that abortion involves killing a fetus. Most are not indifferent to this. Many think that abortion is wrong ­ or at least less good than having a baby. They take their decision because they feel that, in their particular case, to continue with the pregnancy ­ to have a child ­ would be a greater wrong. Women wrestle with their consciences and make their decisions, and usually doctors are able to end the crisis pregnancy in its early weeks ­ long before it is the recognisable human being that features in anti-abortion propaganda.

The women who request abortion at later gestations, whose aborted fetuses look like those paraded in anti-choice videos, are often the saddest and most desperate cases. These women do not need sanctimonious campaigners to tell them their fetus looked like a baby with arms and legs ­ they would have felt its kicks, and yet still they considered abortion the best option. The real truth of abortion lies in the reality of women’s lives ­ the things that lead them to make the decision that a pregnancy is best ended.

ProLife Alliance believe that the images of abortion will convince people to oppose its legality. They believe that those who practice abortion conspire to cover up ‘the truth’. They are wrong.

As somebody who has been involved for years in defending legal abortion by trying to promote a rational public understanding of the issues involved, I am happy to allow my opponents to expose themselves for what they are ­ dishonest, manipulative, irrational, ignorant fanatics who patronise women by insisting that they request abortion because they do not realise it involves the destruction of a fetus.

The images that the anti-abortion lobby would like to thrust in front of us tell us little about abortion but a lot about the people who make them. I would prefer to allow the people of Wales to deliver their verdict. Let ProLife Alliance show their video and be damned.

Ann Furedi is director of communications for the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS).

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Topics Politics