A lesson on the BBC’s website promoting the views of an anti-abortion group has been removed by the broadcaster this weekend, following a backlash from health experts.
The religious studies revision guide, on BBC Bitesize, the broadcaster’s educational resource, listed “powerful arguments” against abortion, used the term “pro-life” rather than “anti-abortion” and featured a page devoted to a vocal campaign group that wants abortion in Britain to be banned.
The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) has a history of promoting misinformation in schools and was exposed in 2019 for launching a toy story-themed campaign aimed at children that falsely claimed fetuses can feel pain 10 weeks after conception.
The broadcaster said it is now reviewing the material in its religious studies guide, which covers Catholics’ views on life and death and is aimed at GCSE students aged 15 and 16.
SPUC has also repeatedly promoted a procedure known as abortion “reversal” on its website, which medical organizations have condemned as unproven and potentially dangerous. And last week it celebrated the decision in the US to overturn Roe v Wade – the supreme court ruling that protected women’s right to abortion across the country – as “a monumental day for justice [and the] unborn”.
Despite its track record, the group was uncritically described on BBC Bitesize as a “pro-life” charity that “advocates for the rights of unborn children”, promotes “the sanctity of human life” and “supports individuals and families through pregnancy”. No pro-choice organizations were mentioned.
Critics said the material, part of a BBC Bitesize resource based on the WJEC exam board syllabus, failed to clearly distinguish between fact and opinion and risked exposing children to “harmful” misinformation.
Lisa Hallgarten, head of policy at Brook, the national sexual health charity, described the learning materials as “shocking” and “problematic in many ways”. . “Pointing to an organization that is very unreliable when it comes to factual information is problematic because you’re giving them credibility,” she said. “This isn’t abstract for young people; this is real life. We have to really avoid sending people to organizations that are going to be unhelpful to them.”
As well as featuring SPUC, the BBC Bitesize resource listed “powerful arguments” against abortion, including that it “denies choice to the unborn child” and makes human life appear “cheap and disposable”.
In another section, a diagram entitled Alternatives to Abortion suggested sexual abstinence and natural family planning as solutions for avoiding unwanted pregnancies, and “financial support” as alternatives to having a termination, but did not mention contraception.
The British Pregnancy Advisory Service, an abortion provider, raised concerns about information provided to teenagers on alternatives to abortion and said it was “absurd” that the diagram suggested abstinence and natural family planning but did not mention contraception.
Humanists UK, a charity promoting secularism, said it was vital for religious studies teaching to highlight different views and encourage structured debate. But Robert Cann, its education campaigns manager, said the inclusion of SPUC was inappropriate given its “track record of promoting extreme views on abortion to children in ways that are simply factually wrong”.
“We should be very wary when its name and resources are hosted uncritically on a children’s self-guided GCSE RE revision course,” he said.
He also criticized the resource for failing to reflect the views of most Catholics. Polls have shown most are supportive of abortion and the use of contraception. “This resource implies that Christians, and in particular Catholics, will invariably be opposed to abortion. But this is the opposite of the truth – we know that, way back in 2013, less than 7% of the total population said they were anti-abortion, including only 14% of Catholics – figures that will have only diminished since,” he said. “The whole thing needs an overhaul to be presented in a more critical, objective and pluralistic manner.”
On Friday, the BBC said it was reviewing the resource and that it had been “temporarily removed” in the meantime. A spokeswoman added that the resource was based on the WJEC exam board syllabus, which is why it included reference to SPUC.
But while it is aimed at a specific group, the resource is publicly available on the broadcaster’s website, and links to it appear high in Google results in searches relating to SPUC, abortion and the BBC.
The BBC website says Bitesize guides are “written by teachers and subject experts and are mapped to follow the curriculum of the UK”.
WJEC, the exam board whose materials the BBC’s guide is intended to accompany, distanced itself from the study materials. “The resources developed by BBC Bitesize were created without any involvement from our religious studies team and are therefore not endorsed by WJEC,” a spokesman said. While the WJEC syllabus examined opposing views on abortion, he said, it did not advocate a particular one.
The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children said it could not comment on the BBC resource but that its own content was based on “scientific facts surrounding life before birth”. A spokesperson accused pro-choice groups of “sanitizing abortion.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism