Pandering to extremists isn’t balance

You’re probably familiar with the “if you’ve been affected by the issues raised in this programme…” warning at the end of gritty BBC dramas, which tells you about the Action Line information service. But it was conspicuous by its absence from last week’s episode of Call The Midwife, in which a character died from a backstreet abortion.

It’s an odd omission, because the Action Line that’s normally mentioned at the end of programmes is for exactly this kind of subject.

So why no announcement?

According to the BBC, abortion is a “contentious issue”. Allowing people to access information might “imply the BBC supported one side or another.”

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.

Abortion has been legal in mainland Britain since the late 1960s and is provided by the NHS. There’s nothing remotely contentious about letting women know what evidence-based medical treatment is available to them any more than it’s contentious to tell people about chemotherapy or vaccinations.

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service, Brook, the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare, Family Planning Association (FPA), Marie Stopes UK, the Royal College of Midwives, and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists have written a letter to the BBC:

Abortion has been legal, in certain circumstances, in Great Britain for over 50 years, and 98% of terminations are funded by the NHS. Abortion is the most common gynaecological procedure in the UK, and one in three women will have an abortion in their lifetime. Polling demonstrates that the vast majority of the public support a woman’s right to choose, including those with a religious belief. 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 BBC Action Line response states that including links to information about abortion could imply the BBC “supported one side or another.” However, 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 choses to include. This is highly stigmatising for the healthcare professionals we represent and the women we care for.

It’s a good example of the BBC getting its desire for “balance” terribly wrong. The abortion “debate” isn’t balanced; it’s a handful of extremists who want to deny legal, evidence-based healthcare to women and who are quite willing to see women suffer and even die because of those extremists’ religious beliefs. In the US, they bomb medical centres and attempt to kidnap and murder doctors.

Pandering to religious extremists isn’t cultural sensitivity, let alone balance. It’s censorship.

Update, 18 Feb: The BBC now says it was “mistaken” and has now amended its website to provide appropriate information.