The BBC is facing backlash for its confusing stance on abortion – a legal and freely available procedure in most of the UK – by not including links to relevant information for viewers on its website.
The #BBC says it will not include abortion information on its Action Line website - a site that provides signposting for viewers seeking support on issues covered in their programmes - because it's too "contentious".— bpas (@bpas1968) February 14, 2019
Our press release: https://t.co/F5ZjeDAbcX pic.twitter.com/2kKxzJsZf0
The row emerged following an episode of the medical period drama Call the Midwife earlier this month, in which a character died from complications following an illegal "backstreet" abortion. At the end of the programme, the BBC advertised its Action Line website, which provides information about sensitive topics featured in its shows, for viewers looking for information and support for issues covered in the episode.
Several viewers who visited the website expecting to find information flagged the issue to the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), highlighting that there were no sources of advice relating to abortion under its "pregnancy issues" section on its website (which also includes "pregnancy, infertility, pre & post natal depression" and more).
The charity grouped together with several other women's healthcare bodies to urge the BBC to reverse its baffling stance. Abortion has been legal in the UK since the 1967 Abortion Act was passed, and is provided by the NHS in England, Scotland and Wales, including to women from Northern Ireland, where it remains illegal in most circumstances.
An open letter – co-signed by charities and organisations including the Royal College of Midwives, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Family Planning Association (FPA) and Marie Stopes UK – urged the BBC to add abortion information to its website, and the corporation's response has angered many who value women's right to legal healthcare, including a lot of people on Twitter.
"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," the BBC's letter said. "Doing so could imply the BBC supported one side or another in any contentious issue, which it does not do in its coverage."
Critics are arguing that far from being a "contentious issue", safe abortion services are a vital – and crucially, legal – part of women's healthcare in much of the UK. "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 coalition of women's healthcare bodies responded.
"In barring information [related to abortion] the BBC is in effect 'supporting one side' by treating abortion as different to all the other medical procedures and conditions the BBC chooses to include. This is highly stigmatising for the healthcare professionals we represent and the women we care for."
Needless to say, the BBC's approach has struck a nerve with people on Twitter, who are also calling on it to change its stance, with many arguing it's the publicly funded corporation's duty to provide information to members of the public.
This is disappointing @BBC. Abortion is healthcare. You should be giving out resources and information—particularly on safe abortions when Call The Midwife depicts unsafe ones—to your viewers.— Renee Bracey Sherman (@RBraceySherman) February 14, 2019
Why are our abortion stories suitable for entertainment, but not real life healthcare? https://t.co/5iZQUv9nBR
Really don’t understand why the BBC refuse to provide information on legal, reproductive healthcare in their Action Line website as they would normally do for any programme that raise health issues. They should reverse this decision @bpas1968 @Abortion_Rights @ARCardiff https://t.co/P5F7KLMMXm— Jo Stevens (@JoStevensLabour) February 14, 2019
I have just complained to the BBC about this. Abortion has been legal in this country for over 50 years. it's not the BBC's place to decide what legal activities are too "contentious" for viewers to be told about- this is another step in the Breitbartisation of the BBC. https://t.co/s7B9OT3YcS— Adam Ganz🔥 (@harbinger) February 14, 2019