Anti-abortion billboard

Ireland’s abortion laws are the strictest in Europe, and anti-abortion group Youth Defence has launched a national campaign that urges women with crisis pregnancies to seek any option but abortion. The ads have attracted widespread criticism from those who believe it’s wrong to take away a woman’s choice.

Choice Ireland spokesperson Stephanie Lord had this to say about Youth Defence:

“If their concern for women was genuine they would not spend the large costs of these billboards on trying to make women feel bad about the choices they have made.”

Anti-abortion billboard

Anti-abortion billboard

When asked about the cost of the campaign Niamh Uí Bhriain of the Life Institute said, “We’re getting really good value… we need to raise a hundred and fifty grand.”

There’ll be 200 advertisements on Dublin buses for four weeks, from June 25th, screens at Heuston Station in Dublin, showing a moving unborn baby, advertisements on buses in Limerick and Cork, and the printing of a minimum of half a million leaflets.

Anti-abortion billboard
Photos via Youth Defence

The Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland is deflecting complaints because the advertising “does not have a commercial element (e.g. a fundraising element) and is outside the remit of the Code.”

This prompted Siren Magazine to create template complaints to send to JCDecaux, the advertising company hosting the billboards, and the Irish Government’s Department of Communications.

“By telling women that there is ‘always’ (emphasised) a better option, and that abortion ‘tears’ a woman’s life apart, this advertisement encourages and condones ‘dangerous behaviour or unsafe practices’ as it discourages women from having an abortion in ANY circumstances, even when their lives are medically threatened as a result of the pregnancy.”

Darragh Doyle tweeted from Dublin’s Lombard Street where one poster was apparently ripped down.

Anti-abortion billboard ripped

Reported elsewhere:
For it or against it, abortion is not a billboard issue, on The Irish Times
‘Abortion Tears Life Apart’ Adverts Spark Anger in Dublin, on Huffington Post
Anti-abortion billboards ‘do not speak for majority of women’, on
Anti-Choice Billboards Arrive in Ireland, on RH Reality Check
ASAI powerless to act on anti-abortion billboards, on

Via Midpoint Creative.

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June 20, 2012


Nice post David. I was going to do one myself but I didn’t want it (and hope it doesn’t) become a Pro-Life/Pro-Choice debate. From a designer point of view and the point of view of the agencies who sell the spaces for this material I think it is an interesting thought experiment relating back to your ‘Ethics in design’ post.

Cheers for the prompt, Steven. I’ve just finished writing chapter 13, and it focuses on ethics, morals, integrity, etc. This story has probably come a bit too late to use as an example, but it would’ve been appropriate. Some designers would’ve been happy to take on the job, others, like me, wouldn’t.

Too controversial for me. I would also not get involved in a job like this.
The real winners here are not the pro or anti campaigners, but the agency and media companies.

It’s very hard to remove the emotional response that I have as a person, from the concept of ethics, morals, integrity, etc. as a designer. But this type of response to the ads is exactly the definition of an effective ad campaign. It gets deep into a persons psyche and wraps up their thoughts motivating them to do something (whether change or lash out).

This campaign in my opinion doesn’t cross any lines of morality or ethics. I would also say that is far from controversial when compared to ads that use sex and violence to sell. But it’s message is one that challenges the viewer. And no one likes to be told they are wrong.

I believe it’s one thing to advertise that “Product X makes you feel good”, but advertising that “if you make X decision, you’ll mess up your life”, especially when this particular subject is still a touchy one.

There is no denying that drug-abuse is not healthy, physiologically, psychologically, etc. In comparison, if these ads advertised the guaranteed, undisputed effects of abortion, they’d have a less negative response, as well as become more relevant.

By the way, David, how’s the book coming along? It would be great if you could give us a minor or a major update on it. Hope it’s coming along nicely.

Eh, I don’t see the problem with these types of advertisements unless they become graphic, inappropriate or insulting.

The message here may come across a tad edgy, but all it’s really saying is think of an unborn baby as a real person and look into other options besides abortion. Nothing that goes too far.

Now that being said, I’ve seen plenty of ads on this topic that go way too far, are inexcusable, and insulting. Common sense is something that should guide those who wish to run emotionally charged campaigns like these.

Funny, I also wrote a blogpost about this subject, not this ad campaign but the topic in general.

I have to agree with you though, It would feel a bit too uncomfortable to work on a subject like this. But I also think that the reason we feel this way is only a emotional response to what the campaign is about.

We don’t mind other campaigns because they mostly agree with our sense of belief, just like the group believe in their message.

I do find the wording and emphasis a bit strong and offensive to women, but for me personally, It is more the message from the group that I don’t agree with.

“but all it’s really saying is think of an unborn baby as a real person and look into other options besides abortion”

It’s not, though. It’s not saying that there *are* other options (which is fair enough), it’s saying that all the other options are better, that there’s *always* (underlined, even!) a better choice. Which for many women is simply not the case. I’ve read some very upset posts over these posters by, for instance, women who terminated pregnancies for very sound medical reasons and who did not appreciate being told by a smug poster that they should have done something different.

Obviously there are ads on this topic that are more extreme, but I do still think these ones cross the line.

Thanks a lot for asking, Yaco. The writing’s going well, and I’ll update on the journey soon.

Martin, spot on, we need to work on projects that fit with our individual morals. Otherwise we’re doing ourselves and our clients a disservice.

Lisa, you’ve summed up my sentiments. This seems like an attempt to guilt-trip women who’ve had an abortion, or to shame those making an incredibly difficult decision. And to put the billboards outside hospitals?

It’s very controversial and I think both sides raise good points. I don’t think it’s good to try and make people feel guilty and would never do that, but isn’t that looking at the past and not the future? If the posters make one person change their mind and saves a babies life, just one life, can you say it’s a bad thing? I have seen many cases where someone has changed their mind and not had an abortion and not one of them have regretted it! They all look at their healthy, beautiful child and are so happy they made the choice they did! In my opinion, if it saves even just one life, its a success.

As you mentioned in your comment just above, placing them just outside hospitals seems a bit over the top, but then again, that is probably where the ‘target market’ would be located, yes?
Personally, I don’t have much of a problem with these billboards, but that fits my ethics on the topic. I don’t want to get into a debate on abortion, but I do agree with Lisa above about there sometimes being a need for it, because of medical reasons etc. I guess it kind of goes how far into the line you read.
At the very least, these are not so tacky and horrifying as the ones that actually show aborted fetuses. Those are just vile and uncalled for, regardless of the truth in message. (Truth meaning, that it does show the actual physical effects, though they tend to use pictures of extreme cases regardless).
Good topic and post David, as always.

The message is very striking, based on assumptions that no one can prove therefore have no right to pour this into the public psyche, but then again, we are bombarded as it is. The language of the campaign is hostile and set out to divide rather than help. I also fully agree with Lisa and it comes across as if written by a very dogmatic set of people. May as well say ‘if you dont believe in Jesus you are (underlined) definitely going to hell. Another assumption that can’t be proven but still affects the human psyche very deeply. Great post Dave, and awesome comments too.

“If their concern for women was genuine they would not spend the large costs of these billboards on trying to make women feel bad about the choices they have made.”

I truly agree with this point of view.

As a designer, this example reminds me that it needs to be more careful when developing high concepts (negative concepts), because they are not only shocking but have high damage. Those billboards might deliver the message of anti-abortion, however, they are double-blade message, and they somehow visually trample women’s dignity.

Totally glad you spoke up about this, David. I’d much rather lose money by avoiding a project like this than lose any integrity I have. Really happy that there are ethical designers out there willing to lose-out on money for the sake of ethics.

Cheers for the comments, guys. Ultimately it comes down to working with causes or products or services we love. That’s when we do our best work. And the more good work we do, the more good work we get.

The copywriting on this campaign is either horrible or great. If the intended audience is the woman who is having an abortion, then the copywriting is off target. If, however, the copywriting is intended to influence people who might persuade a pregnant woman to make another choice, then it is brilliant (I am not commenting yet on design which is subpar)

If a pregnant woman sees this and it says “it tears her life apart” she is not thinking that is herself. Right now, she is thinking that’s not me. I’m me. And I’m making this decision because it’s right for me, not for “her”. If she has decided to terminate her pregnancy, she is thinking “my life will be torn apart if I DO continue with this pregnancy.” Ultimately, the copy is about some else’s opinion, not the pregnant woman’s opinion, which is off-putting.

Conversely, if a person sees this who is against choice and wants to influence the decision of a pregnant woman, then it will invite the person to do more. The person will feel he/she (almost always a “he” BTW, at least here in the USA) is helping the pregnant person from “tearing her life apart.” Whether it works is another story.

The design itself is mundane. The Economist style + some preaching.

The photo that had woman handing out collateral was the only interesting part. I wonder if the campaign people paid those women to do it. In trying economic times, people will do anything to put food on the table. Ironic, if this is the case because I bet not one of those women would want another mouth to feed if this is the case.

An abortion decision is a very difficult one. People who make this decision do it after clearly thinking through it and realize that they can not go ahead with the pregnancy. It is very painful decision for them but they find themselves between a rock and a hard place.

It is that difficult. Let us spare a thought for them and not be judgmental.

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