On Monday, May 24, ten minutes into the premiere of a heavily promoted, live, interactive game show called Million Pound Drop, viewers across Great Britain (but not in Northern Ireland) will see a thirty-second commercial that features three anxious-looking women; one is shown standing at a bus stop. The ad notes that each of the women—a university student, a twentysomething, and a thirtyish mother of two—is “late.” The ad also asks, “Are you late?” and offers a help-line number.
A particular word is never uttered, but the commercial’s purpose is clear: This is Britain’s first-ever television ad for abortion services. It’s the opening shot in a multimedia campaign from Marie Stopes International, a private, nonprofit organization that receives its very own 30 million pound drop each year from Britain’s National Health Service to provide what the Marie Stopes website calls “sexual and reproductive healthcare services.” The ad will air throughout June on Channel 4 in England, Scotland, and Wales but not in Northern Ireland; it will be blocked there because abortion is still illegal in that province.
Marie Stopes has managed to evade Britain’s restrictions on broadcast abortion ads because of its status as a charity; the standards (recently relaxed) now forbid such ads only when placed by private, profit-making companies.
According to a report in the Guardian, Marie Stopes says the ad “aims to provide women with information rather than to promote abortion or any other choice.” According to the Telegraph, however, the charity’s marketing manager says, “We thought it was the right to bring abortion out into the open. It has been legal for 40 years. . . . It doesn’t help to keep it under wraps.” And, of course, as any good marketing manager knows, sometimes the buzz that surrounds an ad—especially a controversial one—is worth far more that the cost of the ad itself. The ad, unseen as of this writing except for a Marie Stopes–provided screen capture of the woman at the bus stop, is sure to show up on YouTube within minutes of its airing.
And here we are, on the other side of the Atlantic, talking about it. One wonders whether that wasn’t the primary aim all along.