The BBC has been accused of “stigmatising” abortion, after the BBC Action Line advice service was found not to include information about the procedure following a Call the Midwife episode that dealt with the issue.
After an episode of the BBC period drama featured a character who died from infection following an illegal ‘backstreet’ abortion, viewers were directed to the BBC’s Action Line if they felt affected by any of the issues raised in the drama.
However, no explicit information regarding abortion was included on the website.
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Abortion care service the BPAS (British Pregnancy Advisory Service) contacted BBC Action Line after receiving various complaints from viewers.
According to BPAS, the BBC website responded that it “isn’t possible to offer support for abortion and similarly contentious issues” without linking to campaigning sites or services that provided abortion.
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
The BBC Action Line section linked to via Call the Midwife contains links to NHS pregnancy advice, as well as organisations providing assistance for issues such as infertility, pre and postnatal illness, miscarriage and child bereavement.
While abortion is not included in the list of pregnancy-related issues, a spokesperson clarified to BBC News that there “no reason why the BBC cannot link to advice sites which provide information on it”.
However, they added, some organisations may not be selected by BBC Action Line because they are “campaigning organisations”.
A letter signed by pro-choice groups and a number of official bodies, including the Royal College of Midwives, condemned the BBC Action Line for not including abortion information.
The joint letter praised Call the Midwife for the way it had “repeatedly handled this issue sensitively and courageously,” but added that BBC Action Line’s response was “disappointing”.
“Abortion has been legal, in certain circumstances, in Great Britain for over 50 years,” the letter said.
“In barring information 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,” the statement continued.
“This is highly stigmatising for the healthcare professionals we represent and the women we care for.”
Call the Midwife airs Sundays at 8pm on BBC1