To Have and Have Not: Abortion Provider's TV Spots Spark Fight Over Who Gets to Advertise

Last Updated May 21, 2010 3:48 PM EDT

Marie Stopes International, a provider of abortion services in the U.K., wants to run a TV commercial and, predictably, pro-lifers believe the ad shouldn't air. It's an odd position for them to take because pro-lifers are prolific makers of TV commercials themselves. They even had one in the Super Bowl this year.

The spat reveals a double standard when it comes to political, religious or moral advertising in the mass media: Conservative advertisers often get a free pass that liberals do not. It also illustrates that while the ad biz often revolves around trivia, free speech issues are at the heart of the industry.

In the U.K., Catholic bishops are opposed to the ad, which is for the British equivalent of Planned Parenthood. The protest group Life is also opposed, as are some liberals who believe it's "the throwaway nonchalance that so offends."

To its credit, the U.S.-based Family Research Council is on the fence: "such an ad might have the benefit of stirring more public debate in a country that is so pro-abortion."

No pro-life activist would ever argue that their ads shouldn't get airtime. In addition to Tim Tebow's Super Bowl ad, in which his mom calls her son a "miracle baby" who "almost didn't make it into this world," there's Jane Roe's commercial in which she disavows Roe v. Wade, and's ad which suggests President Obama may not have been born if his single mom had aborted him.

In fairness, CNN declined to run the Obama ad. But as you can in this Super Bowl flap, for some reason religious conservatives with traditional views can get their ads on national TV, whereas a church with a liberal view cannot.

The fault here lies with the broadcasters: If their standards were consistently applied, this debate wouldn't be a debate.

UPDATE: During a recent visit to the U.K., I saw the ad in question aired on a late night TV show. It was remarkably uncontroversial.