Advertising Standards Authority declines to uphold complaints about Voice for Life television adverts

The background

Voice for Life commissioned a series of radio and television adverts each one of 30-seconds duration. The television adverts ran through October on TV on Demand and featured real women talking about their experience of abortion, or why they chose to continue their pregnancies.

Whenever Voice for Life run advertisements, abortion rights supporters lodge complaints with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) who then deliberate on whether to uphold the complaints or not.

Their Decision is then released to the news media and in this particular case, Complaint 13/487 on 22nd November, 2013.

The complainants were K.Heus and others and they objected to this particular advert described below by the ASA:

“The suite of television advertisements by Voice for Life featured Ariana, a young woman who had an abortion at 15 and her mother Hilary. In the advertisements, Ariana discussed the various effects the abortion had caused her such as depression, suicide attempts, taking drugs to ‘numb the pain’ because of the regret at having the procedure.

“In another advertisement, Ariana said the health nurse had influenced her decision to go ahead with the termination and how after an abortion, there is a ‘slight chance’ of a woman not being able to become pregnant again in the future. Ariana tells the camera that she is one of those woman unable to become pregnant again as a result of the procedure.

“In some of the advertisements Ariana’s mother spoke of the impact and stress caused by her daughter’s depression and suicide attempts and how the loss of a grandchild was something she and her family ‘can’t get back.’”

The objections by the complainants

The advertisement is unbalanced, presenting only one situation where a decision to proceed with termination was made. It appeared to condone substance use.

Women who had had an abortion or miscarriage would find this advertisement extremely distressing. The advertisement was playing on fear. Television was an inappropriate forum to address such a sensitive issue and that as a government-funded body, TVNZ had a responsibility not to promote moral or religious views about topics such as abortion. Other complainants were offended at the suggestion that nurses would encourage a woman to have her abortion which they said was untrue.

Why the ASA declined to uphold the complaints

Rule 11 allows for robust expression of belief or opinion irrespective of the message. The Advocacy Principles state that: “People have a right to express their views and this right should not be unduly or unreasonably restricted by Rules.”

The ASA chairman said Rule 11 and the Advocacy Principles saved the advertisements from reaching the threshold to be misleading or likely to mislead viewers, to unjustifiably play on fear or to cause serious or widespread offence.

As such, the chairman said there was no apparent breach of the Code of Ethics and accordingly there were no grounds for the complaints to proceed.

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