On April 23rd, 2009 for the first time in UK history an advertisement for the morning-after pill premiered on tv. Unlike the US, prescription drug adverts are prohibited in the UK. The advertisement was allowed to be shown as it is not a prescription drug and can be obtained over the counter in Britian. The advertisement comes in light of successful proposals to allow advertisements for pregnancy services and that condom advertisements be allowed to be shown prior to the 9pm "watershed" that marks the time for adverts of adult content. The morning after pill is available free from GPs on prescription or by sale in pharmacies over the counter at a cost of £24.99.
Needless to say, the advertisement was opposed by anti-choice political and religious groups and provoked hostile response in the right-wing mainstream media. Pro-choice and family planning organisations have welcomed the advertisements as a way of letting women know their choices.
Here is the advertisement for the morning-after pill. I want to stress that this is not an endorsement of this product as opposed to others that are on the market. I am providing the link so that people can actually see the advertisement that has generated so much controversy over here:
Marie Stopes International backed the advert, its spokewoman, Emily James saying:
We are delighted emergency contraception, a vital component in the prevention of unintended pregnancies, will be advertised on tv.
The FPA (formerly the family planning association) stressed the importance of information discussing that women know that the morning after pill was most effective within the first 24 hours after unprotected sex and that it was available from GP, contraceptive clinics and pharmacies. It has campaigned that the pill should be made available to people in advance.
Responses from anti-abortion religious groups have been negative to say the least:
Having failed to get the medicine prohibited from over the counter sales (2001) and attempts to stop the advertisement from appearing on tv and fighting a losing battle to prevent abortion service providers from advertising on tv and condom adverts from being shown before 9 pm, groups like the Prolife Alliance, Christian Concern for our Nation (CCFON) and Society for Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) have been reduced to making false claims about the product.
CCFON expressed concern about further liberalisation towards abortifacients, arguing that it is a movement towards abortion on demand and of course, that it will lead to increases in sexual promiscuity, sexual irresponsibility and easier transmission of stds:
The ProLife Alliance accused the makers of levonelle as trying to disguise the product which they argue to be an abortifacient and "causing abortions of foetuses that have already been conceived" as a contraceptive.
SPUC has argued that since women do not know when they ovulate, women who take morning after pills cannot be certain whether they have prevented ovulation or caused an abortion
These organisations insist that the product is an abortifacient (and of course will increase sexually transmitted diseases), but Bayer-Schering (the makers of the product) have denied that the drug is an abortifacient as it is "not effective once implantation has occurred and has not effect on an established pregnancy." http://www.brandrepublic.com/...
The response of the press has been rather interesting:
Leading the charge is the Daily Telegraph stating that the advertisement will of course lead to an increase in teenage pregnancy and literally citing either the company or anti-abortion campaigners such as Ann Widdecombe (who famously left the Church of England when they allowed women priests)
This will make casual sex even more prevalent. Young people will think there are no consequences to having sex. [...] We know that teenagers are watching television well after 9pm. The result of this will be even more teenagers engaging in unprotected sex with all its consequences.
From the Sun, we have the usual inflammatory headline "Shock Advert 'Promotes' Sex" from the comments of the ProLife Association, but they do have a quote from Marie Stopes International.
The Daily Mail gave both sides and Bayer-Schering a chance for a statement, but lead with the furious opposition to the advert as its headline in the article:
According to the Daily Mirror, "radio phone-in shows had hundreds of calls slamming the ad."
Given that millions of viewers saw the advertisement, this is probably indication that most Britons are rather unconcerned irrespective of the hysteria of anti-abortion groups and the right-wing media. What is the one common link between the comments and actions of anti-abortion organisations in the UK? It comes down to a distortion of facts and the attempt to keep information about individual choices with respect to reproductive choices and rights limited. How can they argue that they support sex education and are worried about stds and yet oppose that information on stds and condom usage be shown prior to 9pm? The UK has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Europe and has actually shown an increase for the first time since 2001 (http://news.bbc.co.uk/...). What is needed is access to more information, not distortions and misinformation.