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BBC Newsnight: Is the UK pro-life movement gaining momentum?

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Paul Huxley reviews a segment in BBC’s Newsnight that covers the pro-life movement in the UK as well as attempts to restrict activity outside abortion centres.

BBC Newsnight’s May 10 edition, broadcast a report on pro-life campaigns in the UK, focusing on the issue of buffer zones around abortion centres. You can watch the video on the BBC iPlayer website for the next 29 days.

Overall, Newsnight did a good job of balancing the various voices in the debate as it covered pro-life prayer vigils, marches, and campaigns, speaking to multiple pro-life campaigners as well as pro-abortionists. This is in stark contrast to the 2017 BBC documentary ‘Abortion on Trial’ featuring Anne Robinson which was heavily criticised for its lack of balance (1) (2).

Previously the BBC has been criticised for what has appeared to be pro-abortion bias in its programming. There were still, however, some unfortunate decisions made in the way the report was put together:

1. The report, in varying ways, portrays the pro-abortion side of the debate as being more reliable than the pro-life side. No challenging questions are asked of the pro-abortion representatives, the statistics they quote or the stories they tell. They rightly question the pro-lifers, but are perfectly happy to suggest that there is doubt over whether Abort67’s images are really of aborted babies and to question the numbers who attended March for Life.

2. Stories of aggression from pro-life campaigners are quoted extensively, but never the aggression of pro-abortion campaigners who have damaged and in various ways harassed pro-life groups.

3. Similarly, pro-life representatives are labelled as such, but Pam Lowe is introduced purely as an academic – despite speaking at BPAS events and co-signing campaign letters in favour of buffer zones. This doesn’t invalidate what she says – but it subtly gives more weight to her opinions.

4. Nothing is mentioned of abortion provider Marie Stopes International’s poor Care Quality Commission assessments and suggestions of “a very target-driven culture” at one of their centres. Marie Stopes runs the centre in Ealing where the first UK buffer zone has been established. These issues are tangential to the topic of buffer zones, but the Newsnight report does dig into the finances of the Centre for Bioethical Reform UK and its funding, which is equally tangential.

5. The report repeatedly speaks of the UK pro-life movement as though it is heavily connected to and inspired by the US movement. Although some groups have ties to counterparts in the US, it is hard to see the relevance of this to the actual debate on buffer zones. I would question whether this is an attempt to undermine UK groups to the most extreme examples of American culture wars.

6. The reporter asks why there seems to be an increase in pro-life activity in the UK in recent years. It is suggested that the increase of pro-life groups and activities is because the pro-life movement is losing public support. This doesn’t sound particularly logical. Indeed, Lord Alton of the House of Lords has suggested the opposite is true, saying “The country is getting steadily more and more pro-life as the undeniable truth of unborn life is reaffirmed by new scientific discoveries.”

None of this negates the fact that the report fairly represented both sides of the argument. But, added up, these points do suggest an accidental bias in how the topic is handled by the BBC. It is exceptionally hard to be completely even-handed when reporting on a contentious matter, even when trying to be neutral.

On the whole, it was encouraging that Newsnight struck a more balanced tone in its report, which came on the eve of a group of MPs renewing their calls for national buffer zones to new Home Secretary Sajid Javid. With the recent resignation of Amber Rudd, pro-abortionists seem concerned that their quest for buffer zones could have hit a road block. Hopefully in coming days it will be seen that there is not only a road block but a full-scale reversal on buffer zones and indeed the political power of the pro-abortion movement.