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Senator’s criticism of abortion ads an ‘odious abuse of taxpayer-funded privilege’

Labour senator Ivana Bacik has been criticised by the pro-life group Youth Defence after she called for the Advertising Standards Agency to be given a remit to act on complaints about anti-abortion ads.

Image: Michael Freeman/TheJournal.ie

Updated 5.30pm

LABOUR SENATOR IVANA Bacik has been criticised by the pro-life group Youth Defence after she raised concerns about an anti-abortion billboard campaign currently being run.

The billboards are currently visible across the country and are part of a campaign by Youth Defence in conjunction with the Life Institute. They bear slogans such as “Abortion tears her life apart” and “There’s always a better answer”.

Youth Defence accused Bacik of “socialist censorship” but the senator said that she was merely raising concerns about there being no way for people to complain about the ads and added that she was not advocating that they be taken down.

The Advertising Standards Agency of Ireland (ASAI) has said that it is powerless to act on the 70 or so complaints it has received in relation to the nationwide campaign as the ads fall outside their remit.

In the Seanad yesterday Bacik said that she was “loath to give publicity” to Youth Defence but said that she found the advertisements “offensive, misleading and amounting false advertising”.

“The advertisements concern abortion and feature a caption which reads “Abortion tears her life apart”. They depict a foetus at more than 18 weeks, although 89 per cent of abortions take place before 13 weeks. The advertisements are grossly offensive,” she said.

Bacik said there needed to be an expansion of the remit of ASAI to facilitate the consideration of complaints about the type of advertising currently on display but Youth Defence said these comments were an “odious abuse of taxpayer-funded privilege”.

In a statement released last night the group’s spokeswoman said that Bacik is “deluded” if she felt that she could “demand changes which would ban pro-life advertising”.

“Her demands are indicative of the censorial and oppressive abortion mindset which seeks to outlaw dissenting voices and opinions,” said Rebecca Roughneen. “It smacks of the very worst form of outdated socialist censorship”.

Niamh Ui Bhriain of the Life Institute said that “phones have been ringing off the hook for the past three weeks” since the campaign began and added that Bacik needed to “learn that we live in a democracy”.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie this evening, Bacik said that she had written to the ASAI and the Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte to seek the establishment of a route for people to complain about the ads.

She said she was not explicitly advocating they be taken down: “I want the normal route that you have to complain about advertising and for this complaint to be taken seriously.”

“My concern is that there doesn’t appear to be any way for people to complain. So I have written to the Minister asking can we establish a route of complaint for individuals about these ads.”

Read: ASAI powerless to act on anti-abortion billboards

Read: Anti-abortion billboards ‘do not speak for majority of women’

Column: This campaign is offensive – and flies in the face of the facts

Column: These billboards simply bring the reality of abortion into focus

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Hugh O'Connell

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