Northern Ireland anti-abortion billboard did not mislead, says watchdog
Complaints about a billboard campaign claiming Northern Ireland's restrictive abortion laws had saved 100,000 lives have been dismissed by the regulator.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said the assertion was not misleading and there was a "reasonable probability" it was largely accurate. Pro-life lobby group Both Lives Matter (BLM) faced a challenge after 14 complaints said the claim could not be substantiated.
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The billboard said: '100,000 people are alive today because of our laws on abortion. Why change that?'
An ASA statement said: "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.
"Because we considered that readers would understand the figure to represent an estimate, we concluded that the claim was unlikely to materially mislead readers."
Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where terminations remained banned after the 1967 Abortion Act.
BLM said it had attempted to estimate the number of people alive here today because the law had not been introduced in the province, meaning the procedure was still illegal.
It said it was not possible to calculate an exact figure, but 100,000 represented a credible and conservative estimate.
The calculation was based on a comparison with Scotland's abortion ratio.
Dawn McAvoy from Both Lives Matter said she was delighted with the result.
She said: "Our opponents said we could not substantiate the claim, despite us producing a robust report. The ASA have examined our calculations and backed our figure.
"Their expert concluded that it is reasonable to say that 100,000 people are alive today who would have otherwise been aborted had it been legal to do so.
"This independent verification is a real endorsement of our campaign."
South Belfast Green Party MLA Clare Bailey said the 100,000 figure failed to represent the full picture in Northern Ireland.
"I am surprised by the decision," she added.
"It looks like BLM have a report to back up their claim which I haven't seen, but it would be interesting to know if they've taken into account the amount of women here forced to use online abortion pill providers, and if that would affect the figure."
"They talk about the 100,000 lives this has changed.
"But my response to this is that one in three women will face a decision to have an abortion in their life, so the law here doesn't stop abortions, it just makes them unsafe and forces people to travel."
Emma Campbell, co-chair of the Alliance for Choice group in Northern Ireland, also criticised the ruling.
"Although we are disappointed with the decision of the ASA, we are far more concerned with the disingenuous use of the title 'Both lives matter' for the campaign, when we know that lives of women only matter to them if they live by their strict anti-abortion-in-all-circumstances principles."
She added: "I'm glad they are delighted with their stigmatising of women, as it's clear to see where their priorities lie.
"We will continue to educate against stigma and misinformation as we continue to trust women to make decisions that make sense for their own lives."
by MARK EDWARDS