Graphic anti-abortion billboards ruled unethical

AN ANTI-ABORTION cam-paign that unfurled a graphic photo of a mutilated fetus across hundreds of billboards and posters has met with fierce protests and a reprimand from the country's advertising council.
The campaign, called Right to Live, flooded Slovakia with billboards showing a headless, bloody, 11-week-old fetus with visible limbs, in the palm of an adult.

AN ANTI-ABORTION cam-paign that unfurled a graphic photo of a mutilated fetus across hundreds of billboards and posters has met with fierce protests and a reprimand from the country's advertising council.

The campaign, called Right to Live, flooded Slovakia with billboards showing a headless, bloody, 11-week-old fetus with visible limbs, in the palm of an adult.

The campaign was organised by two until-now unknown non-governmental organisations, the Centre for Bio-ethic Reform and Pastor Bonus. It was allegedly financed by Slovak businessmen who wish to stay anonymous, and part of it was financed by donations.

The organisers placed the image on 500 billboards and 100 posters in buses and trams.

The campaign organisers say on their website that the aim was to end the taboo around the issue of abortions.

"The campaign wishes to evoke solidarity with the conceived babies who are killed violently," they wrote in the statement published on September 12.

"We consider killing helpless children a real genocide, and the fact that it is also co-financed by taxpayers makes it a genocide in which the whole population is an accomplice."

They also say the Act on Abortions, which allows abortions in Slovakia, should be amended.

In May 2001, a group of MPs for the Christian Democratic Movement party (KDH) filed an amendment to the act with the Constitutional Court. The KDH considers the current law too liberal and says it goes against the constitution.

The Constitutional Court is to rule on it by the end of December.

"Each child is a unique human being as soon as it is conceived, and has the right to protection regardless of size, age, race, sex or health status, and thus the Right to Live campaign is directed against the Act on Abortions, which we consider to be discrimination," the campaign organisers said in their statement.

But many citizens have been disturbed by the group's campaign.

"I am disgusted with this campaign," Anka Lučaiová, the editor-in-chief of the weekly Istropolitan, a local policy newspaper, told The Slovak Spectator. "It irritates me that our daughter is confronted with the picture of the torn fetus every day, as well as numerous other young children. We do not watch TV, as we wish to spare her from bad programmes, but we cannot filter out this billboard.

"I see no reason why I should have to explain to our four-year-old daughter what this bloody thing by the road means."

Marian Timoracký, the marketing advisor of the United Consultants advertising company, is convinced that the campaign was designed to shock. But he said it was inappropriate.

"Its purpose is to shock and arouse people," he said. "Using billboards as the main focus of the campaign was not chosen incidentally. Well, that is the way campaigns are. But the end cannot always justify the means."

Gynaecologist Miroslav Borovský cast doubt on the credibility of the campaign. The fetus pictured on the billboards is in its 11th week, and abortions are rarely made at that stage.

"A fetus aborted in the 11th to 12th weeks has certain visible features," he told the Aktuá news website on September 12. "Experts recommend abortion within eight weeks, while the fetus is considered just a cluster of cells."

The current legislation allows abortions until the 12th week of pregnancy for health reasons or when the woman asks for it. When the fetus is genetically handicapped, an abortion can be performed until the 24th week.

If there are grave deformities or the woman's life is in danger, an abortion can be performed at any time.

Campaign ruled unethical

The Council for Advertising (RPR) ruled on September 12 that the campaign was unethical.

According to its statement presented to media, the campaign was not prepared responsibly enough towards all groups of consumers, especially towards minors. By using billboards, the campaign affected all groups of people.

"It shocked some groups of people (parents, women who have had miscarriages, etc.), or could not be understandable (e.g. young children)," the statement says.

The RPR further said that although it does not want to interfere with the freedom of speech, it considered this campaign inappropriate.

In spite of the RPR decision, and media analysts' and citizens' opinions, the campaign organisers intend to continue their efforts.

Campaign spokesperson Jana Tutková denied that the billboards are unethical.

"Abortion is unethical," she said on September 12 at a press conference.

"We will stop showing abortions only after abortions have stopped being done," she later told The Slovak Spectator.

On September 6, Tutková told TA3 that 39 abortions are performed every day in Slovakia.

"You can compare this to one crashed bus, or two classes shot down," she said. "That would be a good reason for announcing a national mourning period, so it has to be taken seriously."

The organisers think the RPR ruled on a matter where it didn't have authority.

"We will immediately appeal against such politically-motivated steps," Tutková told journalists.

But the RPR's executive director, Monika Korkošová, said she doesn't think the campaign against abortions was a political matter.

"Political advertising is arranged within the framework of an election campaign," she told The Slovak Spectator. "Undoubtedly, the advertising campaign of these civic associations does not belong in this category."

Timoracký said it's not normal for groups to blatantly ignore a ruling from an arbitration body such as the RPR, like the Right to Live organisers have.

"It is a demonstration of superiority and contempt," he said.

The Right to Live campaign website includes not only the photographs that were used on the billboards, but also written arguments against abortions. It also includes several alleged confessions by women who have had an abortion.

Miriam, 26, wrote that her mother felt major remorse long after undergoing two abortions.

"She learned more facts about the nature of abortion and has started to feel very sorry," the statement reads. "She was angry at the state for having laws that allow abortion, and for lying to people. She often used to cry and call her children. When she mentioned them, she called to them, 'My babies, please, forgive me!'"

Timoracký said he doubted whether the campaign fulfilled its goal.

"Yes, its organisers can point to how much media response they have provoked," he told The Slovak Spectator. "But they have not looked at what the whole discussion is about - about the nastiness of the picture, about having broken ethical standards, about the billboard itself, its form and contents. This probably was not the intention of the organisers."

Timoracký mentioned that similar ads have also been made in other countries, such as the Czech Republic, but they were found to be unethical there, too.

"The ethical Code of Advertising is more or less universal, globally effective," he said. "Its articles specifically name what the advertisement creators must be careful about."

Similar cases would include showing a naked body, violence, or even insulting the beliefs of certain groups of people, he said.

"If we turned it upside down - for example, if some association wanted to fight against religious fanatics, and showed billboards with details of the mutilated, burnt body of a witch. . ." Timoracký said, without finishing the sentence.

"From the point of view of creating advertising, this would be the same case. The same principle counts.

On September 19, Vladimír Lauš filed lawsuit against the campaign organisers. The ad violates the Act on Family and the Civic Code, he told the TASR newswire.

"The format is inappropriate," he said. The campaign has a bad influence not only on youth under 15, but also on women who have received abortions and older people, he said.

Last year, there were 14,243 abortions in Slovakia, and in 1988 there were 51,000, according to the Slovak Statistics Office.

A campaign against abortions was launched by non-governmental groups this year, 50 years after abortions were legalised in the former Czechoslovakia.

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