Labour MP Stella Creasy targeted with graphic and ‘misleading’ anti-abortion leaflets

Exclusive: ‘Children and women who experienced miscarriage picked them up. There have to be ways in which we protect people’s personal spaces,’ Labour MP Stella Creasy says

Maya Oppenheim
Women’s Correspondent
Monday 20 May 2024 15:49 BST
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Stella Creasy says the leaflets had ‘shocked’ and ‘distressed’ her constituents as she condemned the Advertising Standards Authority for ignoring her calls to take action on the leaflets
Stella Creasy says the leaflets had ‘shocked’ and ‘distressed’ her constituents as she condemned the Advertising Standards Authority for ignoring her calls to take action on the leaflets (PA)

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An MP’s constituency has been targeted by an anti-abortion organisation with graphic leaflets, The Independent has learned.

The Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform UK, which has compared abortion to the holocaust, is behind the campaign in Walthamstow – and the Advertising Standards Authority says there is nothing it can do about it.

Speaking exclusively to The Independent, Labour MP Stella Creasy said the leaflets “shocked” and “distressed” her constituents. She has raised concerns that the leaflets showing an image of an embryo are misleading.

“Children and women who experienced miscarriage picked them up,” she added. “There have to be ways in which we protect people’s personal spaces.”

Ms Creasy, a vocal campaigner on abortion rights, said more than 100 local residents have been in touch after receiving leaflets – with some saying they were challenged by the pamphlet distributors after questioning them.

Creasy has said the leaflets are an attempt to distress her constituents
Creasy has said the leaflets are an attempt to distress her constituents (PA)

Ms Creasy said that while anti-abortion activists have the right to campaign, they should not be leafleting people’s homes. She condemned the distribution as a personal attack on herself and “an attempt to distress my local constituents to deter them from voting for me”.

Ms Creasy is one of a group of cross-party MPs putting forward an amendment to the government’s Criminal Justice Bill, which is expected to be voted on in the Commons on 4 June. The amendment would decriminalise abortion during the current time limit of 24 weeks and safeguard medics who help provide terminations.

Ms Creasy raised concerns with the Advertising Standards Authority, exclusively shared with The Independent, about the image used in the leaflet saying it “suggests an eight-week embryo would be 4cm long when in fact the NHS identifies it would be 1.6cm long”.

Small print on the leaflet states that the eight-week claim is “following fertilisation”, while week eight of a pregnancy in the UK commonly refers to eight weeks since the woman’s last period.

In a letter, the politician drew attention to the leaflet linking to a “website page which directly asks individuals to consider ‘supporting us financially to get this life-saving message out there’ and as such the flyer is indeed a request for funds”.

But the Advertising Standards Authority said leaflets do not come under its remit as the Committee of Advertising Practice deems it inappropriate for the “advertising self-regulatory system to regulate leaflets and other non-paid media that advocate for a cause or idea”.

An earlier letter to the politician stated: “Our code does not cover communications for causes/ideas which appear in non-paid for space unless they also include a direct solicitation of donations.”

There is more coordination around the world and funding money for anti-abortion activism. It is the culture wars – they are using women’s bodies as the battleground

Stella Creasy

Ms Creasy said she cannot see who is responsible for regulating the leaflets if they do not fall under the Advertising Standards Authority’s remit.

The authority “is tying itself in knots to defend their rights to free speech using human rights legislation but not using other human rights legislation which covers the right to privacy”, she said. “I am concerned they are protecting the rights of people to harass at the expense of people’s privacy.”

The politician said delivering anti-abortion literature into letter boxes is a tactic “imported” from US activists where this type of activity is far more common.

“There is more coordination around the world and funding money for anti-abortion activism,” Ms Creasy added. “It is the culture wars – they are using women’s bodies as the battleground.”

Ms Creasy recently told The Independent that US-funded anti-abortion activists have begun a crusade of harassment against her, targeting her in a “persistent and sustained” pattern, accusing her of “killing babies”.

She said she was facing “a bonfire of abuse” from anti-abortion ideologues on social media in punishment for campaigning on abortion rights, explaining protesters have harassed nearby residents.

In a statement, the Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform UK said: Stella’s decision to campaign (including fundraising) for more liberal abortion laws by misrepresenting the facts and her opposition, is why we continue to invest in educating her constituency. We welcome all donations to that end.”

Previous anti-abortion billboard campaign targeting Creasy
Previous anti-abortion billboard campaign targeting Creasy (Twitter/Stella Creasy)

In 2019, an advertising company was forced to remove a “disgusting” anti-abortion billboard campaign levelled at Ms Creasy when she was pregnant – with the Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform UK behind the advertising campaign, which saw six posters spring up around Walthamstow.

Ms Creasy previously said the billboards, which were emblazoned with the words “Stop Stella” and featured an image of a foetus, had left her “physically sick” and constituted a form of “harassment”.

Clear Channel, the advertising agency which ran the campaign, apologised for the posters, which were then taken down.

On the recent leafleting, a spokesperson for the Advertising Standards Authority said: “In our democratic society that values free speech, it is not our role to interfere unduly in the exchange of viewpoints and beliefs; and it is difficult to arbitrate between conflicting causes and ideas.”

A spokesperson for Waltham Forest Council has been contacted for comment.

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