Complaints over anti-abortion billboard campaign rejected

Both Lives Matter adverts claim 100,000 people are alive due to North’s termination laws

The British Advertising Standards Authority has rejected complaints about a billboard campaign arguing that 100,000 more people are alive in Northern Ireland because its abortion laws are more restrictive than those in Britain.

In January this year the Both Lives Matter organisation ran two billboards in the North stating, "100,000 people are alive today because of our laws on abortion. Why change that?" The billboards were placed in Belfast and Derry.

This prompted 14 complainants who contended that the claim was misleading and could not be substantiated.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) however ruled the advertisement was not misleading and not in breach of its code. In its 3,370-word ruling published on Wednesday the authority examined the methodologies used by the organisation which mainly focused on a comparison with abortion data from Scotland, but also from England and Wales and ultimately found it was a reasonable estimate.

It stated, “on balance, we concluded that the evidence indicated that there was a reasonable probability that around 100,000 people were alive in Northern Ireland today who would have otherwise been aborted had it been legal to do so”.

Threat to life

Abortion is currently legal in Northern Ireland where there is a threat to the life of the woman or where there is a risk of a serious and adverse effect on her physical or mental health which is either long term or permanent. The 1967 British abortion act does not apply in Northern Ireland.

Dawn McAvoy of Both Lives Matter said her organisation was as “cautious as possible” with its 100,000 lives estimate and believed that the real figure may be much higher.

“Using a simple comparison with the abortion rate in England and Wales the headline figure would be almost 250,000,” she added.

“We are a pro-woman and pro-life group trying to find a third way through this very emotional subject. Rather than focus on the negative, we have always sought to be a positive movement,” she said.

“The billboard sought to highlight the 100,000 people alive in Northern Ireland today because we didn’t bring in the 1967 Act. Statistically, everyone in Northern Ireland knows someone who is alive today because of our balanced laws relating to abortion,” added Ms McAvoy.

“We wanted people to realise that this had changed the lives of everyone. It also debunks the myth that law doesn’t stop abortions – it clearly does.”

Ms McAvoy said Both Lives Matter wanted “to get on with working with all those who want to re-frame the abortion debate in Northern Ireland and beyond, advocate for better care in pregnancy crisis, safeguard the current law which protects both women and children, and create a life-affirming culture that values each woman and her unborn child”.

“We hope that this independent verification will lead to widespread acceptance of the fact that Northern Ireland’s different approach to abortion has made a very real difference – to at least 100,000 people,” she said.