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BBC Criticised Over Handling of Abortion Storyline on Call the Midwife

15 February 2019

A woman on the show died of an infection after seeking an abortion.

On 3 February, the BBC aired an episode of Call the Midwife in which a woman died from an infection following an illegal abortion. This is the second illegal abortion storyline on the programme in 2019 (read about the first here).

After the programme aired, there was an advertisement which directed viewers affected by the episode to the BBC Action Line website. This website linked to NHS pregnancy information but did not directly link to any abortion providers. BBC Action Line explained this choice, stating:

'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. Doing so could imply the BBC supported one side or another in any contentious issue which it does not do in its coverage'.

Perhaps, the BBC should have considered providing a link to a post-abortion counselling organisation, such as Abortion Recovery Care and Helpline (ARCH), on their Action Line website. These stories can, understandably, be upsetting to women who have been hurt by abortion, who may need further support.

Abortion promoters seek free advertising

The absence of links to abortion providers or research in favour of abortion drew criticism in the form of a joint letter from campaigning groups including the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), Marie Stopes UK, The Royal College of Midwives, and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. The letter reads:

'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…We ask that you [BBC Action Line] amend the current policy as a matter of urgency, as we are aware women are currently visiting your website for advice on abortion, and include links to evidence based, impartial information.

Women facing pressures for abortion need help

In their own coverage of this controversy, the BBC sought comment from various organisations on different sides of the debate. In doing so, they received a quote from John Deighan, Deputy CEO of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, who said, 'The issues raised in the 'Call the Midwife' programme are controversial. I can understand reservations over which helpline numbers would have been appropriate to provide'. In his full quote, not included in the BBC coverage, he went on to say:

'If information had been included I think Abortion Recovery Care Helpline (ARCH), with whom we work closely, would have been a most helpful number to offer to the many women and family members affected by an abortion experience. This service gives much needed hope for women facing terrible emotional problems and their contact number is  0845 603 8501. It is also important to realise that many women facing pressures for abortion are in need of help and support rather than to be rushed to abortion services'.

Sister Deceiver

This upset pro-abortion campaigning organisation Sister Supporter. In a Facebook post, they criticised the BBC for including a male, pro-life commenter and suggested SPUC hosts weekly protests outside of abortion clinics and 'call women entering (and leaving) the clinic "murderers"' – a claim which is patently false.


SPUC does not organise pro-life vigils outside of abortion facilities and would not condone such name-calling. Across the UK, there is not sufficient evidence of such harassment taking place – as confirmed by Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, last year. Many SPUC supporters choose to attend peaceful pro-life vigils, and SPUC supports their right to do so as an expression of their freedom of speech, assembly, and religion. SPUC also defends the existence of these peaceful vigils, and often covers stories related to them.

Michael Robinson, Director of Parliamentary Communications and Campaigns for SPUC, said in response, 'It is extremely disappointing to see Sister Supporter spreading falsehoods about the nature and work of SPUC. As a matter of urgency, we would ask Sister Supporter to retract their statement and issue an apology'.

News in brief:

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Comments (2)

  • M Steven

    25 February 2019, 1:57pm

    I think that the SPUC and the other UK pro-life organisations should be more concerned about Call the Midwife’s increasingly pro-abortion stance.

    Drama is a very effective way to change public opinion, or indeed to further entrench it.

    The more an audience sympathises with a fictional character, the more they are able to put themselves in that character’s shoes and empathise with their predicament, the more likely they are to be subtly cajoled into adopting the opinions espoused by that character.

    Call the Midwife is positively teeming with popular, sympathetic characters. One glance at Twitter is all that is required to confirm this. So far this year not one of these popular, sympathetic characters has espoused a strong pro-life position in response to the traumatic abortion storylines increasingly featured by the program (interesting word that, ‘program’). Not even one of the Anglican nuns. This beggars belief and surely represents a serious failure for a program whose makers take pains at every turn to boast about their meticulous historical accuracy.

    Are you seriously trying to tell me, Ms Heidi Thomas, that not one of these principled women (be they nun or midwife) would stand up for the rights of the unborn?!

    I am finding it very difficult to garner any information regarding how things really were back in 1964. Roughly how many backstreet abortions were being performed? What was the feeling amongst the medical professionals of the time regarding abortion? I believe that Call the Midwife is trying to make us believe that the 1967 Abortion Act came about as an almost inevitable consequence of the situation at the time, is this even true?

    I think that it could be very productive move to get people like Alan Smith and Elspeth Chowdharay-Best, the founders of your marvellous organisation, to comment on Call the Midwife’s portrayal of the times they lived through and sought to better.

    Finally, I think the timing of this biased and possibly inaccurate presentation of history by one of the BBC’s most popular programs is somewhat suspicious. Abortions were being performed in the East End from 1957 (as well as before that of course), the year in which the first series set, right through to 1964, so why the increasing fixation by the program’s makers on this issue now? Sure, the problem may have gotten worse as the sixties progressed as a result of the often reckless, free-loving lifestyle adopted by many who lived at that time? Perhaps Mr Smith or Mrs Chowdharay-Best could enlighten us? Anyway, I find it suspicious and worrying that this very popular program is choosing this moment to highlight the supposed need for legal abortion just when moves are afoot to do away with the 1967 Abortion Act and further endanger the lives of the unborn.

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  • M Steven

    25 February 2019, 2:21pm

    If you publish my comment could you please change this line in the final paragraph:

    Abortions were being performed in the East End from 1957 (as well as before that of course)...

    To this:

    Illegal abortions were being performed in the East End from 1957 (as well as before that of course)...


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