The BBC has updated its advice website, BBC Action Line, to include a link to NHS abortion support services, following a huge backlash at their initial refusal to do so.
On Thursday, the BBC was accused of "stigmatising abortion" after it refused to signpost viewers to abortion-related services after a recent episode of Call the Midwife saying it would be "contentious".
Following a recent episode of Call the Midwife, in which a character died from complications as a result of an illegal abortion, the BBC Action Line site did not list services offering support for women affected by abortion, citing impartiality.
Instead, viewers were signposted to services for "pregnancy related issues", such as those who had experienced miscarriage, pregnancy related depression, and child bereavement.
The BBC has now added a link to the NHS Advice section of the list of issues related to "Call The Midwife," which links to the NHS's advice on abortion, but stopped short of explicitly labelling a section on abortion, as they had for miscarriage or child bereavement.
"There is no reason why the BBC cannot link to advice sites which include information about abortion and our Action Line has provided links to the websites for NHS services where there is NHS information about it," a BBC spokesperson said.
Prior to the change, leading health organisations – including the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Royal College of Midwives – have now challenged the BBC to include abortion services alongside links to organisations supporting women with pre and postnatal illness, premature birth, miscarriage, and stillbirth.
The letter, sent today, follows a complaint by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) to the BBC after the episode aired on February 3.
In an email on February 5 responding to the complaint, a BBC spokesperson said that it was not possible for them to signpost abortion services because this could be considered to be supporting a campaigning organisation on a contentious issue.
"Doing so could imply the BBC supported one side or another in any contentious issue which it does not do in its coverage," the spokesperson continued.
In Thursday's open letter to the BBC, women's health organisations – also including British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), Brook, Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare, Family Planning Association (FPA), Marie Stopes UK – accused the BBC of supporting one side over another by refusing to signpost to any information about abortion.
"Abortion has been legal, in certain circumstances, in Great Britain for over 50 years, and 98% of terminations are funded by the NHS," the letter reads.
The most recent government figures on abortion show that 192,900 abortions were carried out in 2017. According to the latest British Social Attitudes Survey, 70% of the UK public polled believed that a person should be able to terminate a pregnancy if they did not wish to have the child, rising to 93% if the mother's health is endangered.
"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 letter continued.
"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 chooses to include.
"This is highly stigmatising for the healthcare professionals we represent and the women we care for."
In Ireland, where abortion was recently legalised, the equivalent section of state broadcaster RTE's website lists the My Options helpline, which provides counselling and information to women experiencing unplanned pregnancy.
A BBC spokesperson told BuzzFeed News: "Abortion is a controversial subject across the UK, but there’s no reason why the BBC cannot link to advice sites which provide information on it.
"BBC Action line advice around Call The Midwife links to a number of sources of pregnancy advice and information, including the NHS website which includes information about abortion.”
A spokesperson for BPAS said that the BBC had ignored the concerned raised in the letter.
"Today, a coalition of healthcare bodies representing doctors, nurses, and midwives categorically told the BBC that abortion is not a “contentious issue” but a routine part of NHS-funded healthcare," the spokesperson said.
"It is absolutely shocking that the BBC has chosen not to listen to the voices of these medical professionals, and today’s response further underlines their fundamental misunderstanding of this essential healthcare service."
"We should be clear: in saying that abortion is a “controversial” subject, the BBC is making a political statement about a medical issue."
"The BBC Action Line does not link to information about abortion. It does not mention the word abortion. The BBC’s policy on this remains unchanged, and it remains completely unacceptable."
Laura Silver is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Laura Silver at email@example.com.
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