Channel 4’s decision not to broadcast the Marie Stopes ‘Are you late?’ TV advert in Northern Ireland raises questions about what information it is criminal to distribute here. The Chief Executive of Marie Stopes International told the Guardian that ‘the advertising of abortion facilities, their contact numbers or addresses is against the law in Northern Ireland.’
The fact that the advert in question does not contain the word ‘abortion’, and is for an organisation that provides a wide range of sexual health services, apparently makes no difference. About 3,000 women every year from Ireland, North and South, find their way to Marie Stopes clinics for abortions anyway, and the idea that preventing a TV ad can stop the spread of information seems ridiculously quaint.
However, we are by no means all online, and the attitudes of GPs are notoriously patchy. Access to abortion is already determined by wealth here; access to information about it shouldn’t be equally dependent on an individual’s resources. At least this area of our hazy abortion law seems easy to test.
What constitutes ‘advertising’? Are we allowed to whisper ‘Google it’? Is a billboard out of the question? Channel 4 might not be willing to risk it, but I’m sure somebody is.