Submitting Complaints Against Anti-Choice Ads


Current Anti-choice Ads that Need Your Complaints


Ottawa radio ad about fetal heartbeats

In Ottawa, the radio station LiVE 88.5 FM has been running an anti-abortion ad since early October. A supporter got in touch with them and they responded: “We air the commercial because it is our responsibility to act as custodians of free speech.”

But the reason that anti-choice ads should not be run is because they almost always feature false information, and/or demean women. Ad hosts need to vet dubious ads with Ad Standards before they run the ad.

Here's the text of the ad:

"Did you know that there are over 100 000 abortions every year in Canada? That's almost 300 abortions a day. Did you know that an unborn child's heart starts beating 21 days after conception? And that individualized brainwaves of unborn children have been recorded as early as 6 weeks and 2 days? Canada is aborting it's future one life at a time. To find out more about abortion, visit www.actionlife.org this message was brought to you by Action Life Ottawa."

Before submitting a complaint on this ad please contact info@arcc-cdac.ca as only 10 complaints are allowed per ad.


Section 1, Accuracy & Clarity:
Obstretician/gynecologist Dr. Jen Gunter wrote about American "fetal heartbeat" bills in 2016 (
https://drjengunter.wordpress.com/2016/12/11/dear-press-stop-calling-them-heartbeat-bills-and-call-them-fetal-pole-cardiac-activity-bills).

Dr. Gunter says: "The earliest cardiac activity is seen in a fetal pole and using any other term means that you are lock step with a campaign
of misinformation and it’s wrong."

In other words, it is NOT a heartbeat at 21 days because there is no heart yet.

A fetal pole "is the first direct imaging manifestation of the fetus and is seen as a thickening on the margin of the yolk sac during early pregnancy." (https://radiopaedia.org/articles/fetal-pole).

"
It's actually the structure that becomes that fetus, but at this point of development in no way resembles a human being." (https://www.verywellfamily.com/my-ultrasound-showed-no-fetal-pole-am-i-miscarrying-2371249)

The ad employs medical terminology yet uses the terms "unborn child" and "unborn children." Embryos and fetuses are not children. There is no "child" when fetal pole cardiac activity is detected, and no "child" when abortion occurs.

Section 14, Unacceptable Depictions and Portrayals
The sentence: "Canada is aborting it's future one life at a time" is demeaning to women and transgender people who need abortion. Safe, legal abortion protects THEIR future and that of their families. Women are full human beings with Charter rights, not incubators.

Further, the ad is misleading and demeaning because it erases the critical role of pregnant women. There would be no cardiac or brain activity without the person carrying the embryo/fetus, which is in no way viable outside the womb at 21 days and not till about 24 weeks.



How to Submit a Complaint to Ad Standards

What is “Ad Standards”?

If you see an anti-choice ad that you feel is inappropriate, offensive, inaccurate, etc., you can submit a complaint to the advertising watchdog Ad Standards. This private agency administers the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards (“the Code”).

Ad Standards has limited enforcement powers beyond asking the advertiser to rescind the ad and not use it again, and some anti-choice groups refuse to honour this request. Although the Code has no authority or legal standing on its own, it is widely endorsed by advertisers, advertising agencies, and media. When ads are deemed to contravene the Code, the decisions can be effectively used to convince the ad hosts (local governments, media outlets, etc.) to remove the ads and not accept similar ads again. Further, many cities and municipalities cite the Code in bylaws and advertising policies, which gives the Code further authority and strength.

Please note that Ad Standards only accepts up to 10 complaints on any particular ad (as of Oct 2018). They only need ONE complaint to initiate a review, and large numbers of complaints slow down their process.

Therefore, please check with ARCC (info@arcc-cdac.ca) before sending in a complaint, particularly for ads that are not confined to one city or region in Canada.



Filling out the Complaint Form

You can submit your complaint online or by snail mail or fax. When submitting online, the website will take you through a series of questions. We provide guidance for most of the steps as follows:

“Your Information”
Submit your complaint as an “Individual”, not a “Group”. This is because Ad Standards may designate your group as “Special Interest”, which means the decision resulting from your complaint cannot be made public by anyone, including any individuals who submitted complaints on the same ad. Pro-choice groups are considered “Special Interest” groups.
“What is the name of the advertiser?”
Enter the name of the anti-choice group, and not the newspaper, radio station, transit or billboard company, etc.
“What is the Product or Service advertised?”
Depending on the ad, you might say something like, “Misinformation about abortion.” or “A message that abortion should be illegal.” Or "Propaganda."
“Where did you see the advertisement?”
“When did you see the advertisement?”
Specify the location and date. It’s okay if you can’t remember precisely where and when you saw it, just give your best estimate. The location could even be a link to a news story showing the ad.
“Describe the advertisement”

If you don’t have a photo or copy of the ad to send (see next field), describe the ad in detail here.

Alternatively, provide a link to a copy of the ad online. Sometimes a media story will show it or the anti-choice group responsible will have it on their website. Make certain that any linked copy you provide is the same ad you saw.

“Attach a copy of the advertisement, if available”
Upload a file containing the advertisement, if you have one.
“Please describe your concern about the advertisement”

See our Guide to Advertising Code below to help you, if desired. For example, you may want to cite section(s) of the Advertising Code and explain why you believe the ad contravenes them.

However, it’s fine to just describe the negative effects the ad had upon you or your loved ones, or give your own reasons why you feel the ad is inappropriate. This could even make your complaint stronger, e.g. if you had a strong emotional reaction to the ad.

If Ad Standards thinks there might be a Code infringement, they will accept your complaint for formal review by the Advertising Standards Council.

“Advertiser Contact”
If accepted for review, Ad Standards will send your complaint to the advertiser. You can choose whether to give them permission to also disclose your name and contact info to the advertiser. To be safe from possible anti-choice harassment, it’s best to select the “No” option.

Guide to Advertising Code

If desired, you can do a bit of research on the Code to figure out what Code sections the ad might contravene, and the previous decisions Ad Standards has made against anti-choice ads. Again, this is not necessary, feel free to submit a complaint based on your own thoughts and opinions.

Here’s the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards, complete with explanation and definitions.

For a list of decisions against anti-choice ads, visit Ad Standardscomplaint search page and enter “abortion,foetus,fetus” in the “Advertiser or other Key words” field.

Sections of the Code Pertinent to Anti-choice Ads

Section 1: Accuracy and Clarity

Anti-choice ads are considered advocacy ads. Just by their nature, most anti-choice ads will run afoul of Section 1 of the Code, Accuracy and Clarity, which is worded quite broadly to capture not only inaccuracies but also deceptive or misleading claims, omissions, and claims unsupported by evidence.

Previous examples of inaccuracies that Ad Standards found in anti-choice ads include:

Section 14: Unacceptable Depictions and Portrayals

Another very important part of the Code is section 14, Unacceptable Depictions and Portrayals. Anti-choice ads are often demeaning to women and trans people, and arguably even discriminatory because they may imply they are murderers or that their Charter rights should be removed.

Section 14 has several subsections that advertisements must not contravene. (Note: The following are incomplete summaries that may also miss nuance. Please consult the full text.)

Advertisements must not:

Previous examples of Section 14 contraventions that Ad Standards found in anti-choice ads include:

Other Code Sections that May Apply to Anti-choice Ads

Two other Code sections might be useful, depending on the ad:



Previous Complaints and Sample Letters


Billboard campaign - "Canada has no abortion laws” - August 2018

Ad Standards issued a decision on Oct 17 against the anti-choice billboards and signs "Canada has no abortion laws", on the basis that the ad contravenes Section 1 of the Advertising Code, "Accuracy and Clarity". No reasoning was given, but it seems likely that at least some elements of ARCC's critique (below) was used, as incorporated by some of the many complaints against the ad.

Background: The anti-choice group "We Need a Law" contracted with Pattison Outdoor Advertising to display these billboards in 30 cities/locations across Canada - despite the fact that Pattison has an Advertising Policy that says ads must not contravene the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards. Most anti-choice ads DO in fact violate the Code, and this one is likely no exception. Unfortunately, Pattison still approved and ran the ad, and company president Randy Otto insisted they won't take down the ad unless/until Ad Standards issues a decision against the ad. In addition to the Pattison billboards, Lamar Advertising in London ON ran the ad on buses.

ARCC's critique of the ad:

On its face, the ad statement that “Canada has no abortion laws” is accurate. However, that is not enough. It’s about the implication the ad makes and what's missing. Section 1 of the Advertising Code, "Accuracy and Clarity", is broadly worded to disallow representations that may be perceived by the audience in a misleading way, i.e., the general impression conveyed by the advertisement is key. Ads must also not omit relevant information that results in a deceptive or misleading ad.

The perceived misleading messages the ad sends are that abortion is completely unregulated, there's something wrong with abortion, and there should be laws restricting abortion. Further, the ad omits to say that abortion is in fact regulated by the Canada Health Act, the Canadian Medical Association, the provincial Colleges of Physicians & Surgeons, medical discretion, best practices, and clinical protocols. Just like any other healthcare. In fact, no healthcare treatment has criminal or civil laws governing it, as that is unnecessary, including for abortion.

Also, the ad may contravene Section 14 of the Advertising Code (Unacceptable Depictions and Portrayals) because abortion is a fundamental right for women, protected by Charter rights of bodily security, life, liberty, conscience, privacy, and equality. The advertiser "We Need a Law" advocates for laws restricting abortion, which means they advocate for removing women's human rights. Under Section 14, this would be condoning discrimination, as well as demeaning or degrading to women. The same applies to transgender people who can get pregnant, as they are protected under anti-discrimination laws.




Graphic Images - July/August 2018

Ad Standards apparently did not rule on this particular instance because it had previously issued a decision against aborted fetus imagery in the form of graphic flyers delivered to households by the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform (CCBR). However, CCBR openly flouts Ad Standards decisions against its messaging.

The anti-choice groups CCBR and "Show the Truth" were active in numerous cities over the summer of 2018 displaying their graphic imagery of alleged aborted fetuses, and/or delivering graphic flyers to households. The majority of activity was in the metro Toronto area, but there were reports of activities from Ottawa, Peterborough, Oshawa, Oakville, Pickering, Waterloo, Burlington, Winnipeg, Regina, Calgary, Vancouver, New Westminster, Burnaby, and other cities.



Lethbridge "Fetal Pain" Ads - March 2018

Ads implying that full-term fetuses were being aborted in Canada and suffering pain from abortion were placed on bus benches in the City of Lethbridge Alberta in March 2018.  The ads were removed by the city in April 2018 after numerous complaints.On May 30, Ad Standards upheld a complaint about the ad, saying it was misrepresentative, scientifically inaccurate, and demeaning and disparaging to women.


Related Information