News, Culture & Society

BBC ignored poll showing UK conservative views on abortion

The BBC has suppressed an ‘inconvenient’ survey that showed the British public has a conservative attitude to abortion.

Pollsters ICM found no widespread support for scrapping abortion laws in research commissioned for the BBC2’s Abortion On Trial.

But when the show, hosted by Anne Robinson, aired last Monday, there was no mention of the result.

Instead, producers ‘cherry-picked’ results which support a radical campaign to decriminalise abortion – a move which would end the 24-week time limit on terminations for so-called ‘social’ reasons.

‘Inconvenient’ truth: Anne Robinson, far left, hosted the BBC debate in her home – but failed to refer to poll findings about decriminalising abortion

Tory MP Fiona Bruce, who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Pro Life Group, said: ‘How can people be expected to have a fair and proper debate if facts are suppressed? It undermines credibility to cherry-pick polling results to reflect a lobby to which programme makers may be sympathetic.’

The hour-long programme was recorded at Ms Robinson’s Gloucestershire home and involved a debate between nine people who held different views on abortion. Publicity material said: ‘For every key issue her guests discuss, Anne examines how their views compare to those of the wider public.’

But the programme failed to mention ICM findings on several subjects discussed, including that:

  • The British public strongly favours the current law of requiring two doctors to approve an abortion, over moves to weaken this;
  • Only a minority think the woman’s ‘right to choose’ is paramount – while most disagree with terminating on the grounds of disability;
  • A huge majority object to abortion based on the foetus’s gender.

However, the programme did highlight the belief, erroneously held by 69 per cent of the public, that abortion is ‘completely legal if the woman requests it’. During the broadcast, Lord Steele, architect of the 1967 Abortion Act said: ‘Perhaps the time has come to revisit the legislation of 50 years ago and decriminalise it completely.’

Abortion rights activist Diane Munday called for the same – and backed sex-selective abortion. Neonatologist Neena Modi suggested the 24-week limit, based on the chance of a foetus surviving outside the womb, should be dropped, saying the key issue was whether a woman felt ‘abortion is warranted’.

Parts of the medical establishment, including the Royal College of Midwives and the British Medical Association, also want the 24-week limit lifted. No experts were filmed giving alternative viewpoints, despite the BBC’s head of religion and ethics, Fatima Salaria, promising an ‘impartial’ programme.

Maria Caulfield, MP for Lewes and a former nurse, said: ‘I am concerned not all sides of the argument are being put across if the BBC ignores inconvenient poll results.’

Last night, the BBC said: ‘It is completely wrong to suggest that the BBC suppressed the results of the poll. They were released to the press prior to transmission, were referred to throughout the programme and have been published in full on the ICM website.

‘The production team went to great lengths to ensure Abortion On Trial was fair and impartial, using expert consultants (both anti-abortion and pro-choice), including contributors representing a wide range of perspectives and experience.’

The corporation said it hoped the programme ‘was a starting point for discussion’.


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