“Let’s have abortion everywhere, until they pass the fucking law!”

As the Internet mulls over Carphone Warehouse’s latest ad campaign in Ireland, Doreen Manning caught up with Abortion Support Network’s Mara Clarke, and asked what she thought of this controversial ad campaign.

So, you’ve probably seen a rather striking advert in the last few days if you’re living in Ireland. Maybe you’ve seen it on the side of a bus stop:

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Or on your news feed on Facebook:

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No doubt you’ve indeed seen it. Possibly, instead, you’ve seen just some of the responses on social media in recent days, that response being almost exclusively outrage, from both sides of the argument on abortion rights. Anti-choice people are, typically, calling it an outrage, because isn’t everything an outrage to anti-choice people? Pro-choice people are accusing Carphone Warehouse of exploiting a genuine struggle for autonomy in order to make a quick buck and be talked about ad nauseum (and, ta-dah, here we are).

It occurred to me, upon seeing the advert for the first time, that it’s odd, and of great risk, for a large-scale business like Carphone Warehouse to declare itself as ‘pro-choice’, considering that the company that has little to no track record of putting their weight behind any kind of political group or belief, and knowing full well that taking such a stance could have dire consequences on any potential or existing customer base. It also struck me immediately, that whichever marketing executive came up with the idea for this campaign was more than likely not one that lives or works in Ireland, seeing as they took little to no consideration for the potential verbal abuse that their stores’ staff members would be faced with, particularly from anti-choice organisations and protesters.

But is that any more worth considering than when businesses march at LGBTQ pride parades? Are they similarly ‘diluting’ the message of LGBTQ pride and equality as a marketing ploy, or are they showing simple solidarity by standing with the community?

I reached out to Carphone Warehouse directly on the issue, in the hope that I would be able to get an interview of sorts with the manager of a local store. Unfortunately, I received no response from them, despite sending several emails to their Press Relations team. I was, however, able to get an interview with the next best thing: Mara Clarke, director of Abortion Support Network, who brought a completely fresh outlook on the campaign.

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So what’s your personal opinion of the ad campaign?

I mean, I have a mixed feeling about (the adverts). Part of me says ‘holy moly, a giant retailer is co-opting the pro-choice message, which makes the campaign incredibly successful’. Not their advertising campaign, the pro-choice campaign. So that’s amazing. Can you imagine that happening 3 years ago? 10 years ago? 20 years ago?

 

No, I actually can’t.

Even the hint of the word ‘abortion’, which is what pro-choice is to a lot of people in Ireland would have not even made it into the meeting, much less into the final product. So that means, y’know -ASN isn’t a campaigning organization, but I did use to be a public relations professional for years, and the only way the coalition to repeal the 8th, the only way the 8th Amendment is going to be repealed is if we win the case in the court of public opinion. And if Carphone Warehouse is willing to slap ‘pro-choice’ on its advertisements, that is an incredible sign of progress. Now, at the same time, the lefty in me, is like ‘Come on, really. So, you’re gonna put pro-choice in your ads, you’re gonna get a metric fuckton of free press because of the ‘controversy’, y’know, ‘controversial’ use of the pro-choice message in your ad campaign, when actually, you’re not saying anything.’ To my knowledge, Carphone Warehouse doesn’t donate to the Abortion Rights Campaign in Ireland. They definitely don’t donate to Abortion Support Network. I would be happy if they even made all calls to BPAS and Marie Stopes and NUPAS free!

But I can’t be too upset about it though; I think, to me, it’s a victory for the campaign, I don’t think it’s going to do anything to the campaign one way or the other. I’ve seen some criticism that ‘oh people are gonna say that repeal is just a fashion statement’– don’t care! As long as that fashion leads to people going and voting to repeal the 8th– don’t care!

 

If it gets the message out there, even if it’s watered down, it’s getting the message out there.

Y’know what, sometimes, watered down is the only way people can drink it. Not everybody is for abortion on demand until 24 weeks or until whatever point. Some people are only okay with abortion to 12 weeks and you know what, I’ll take them to 12 weeks and disagree with them to 24.

So the message has to reach the most people possible. A lot of people aren’t even gonna know what it means, but to me, the real victory is, can you imagine this having happened 10 years ago, or even 3 years ago, and the answer to that is ‘absolutely not’. So, hats off to the people who have been campaigning in Ireland, even though they should’ve talked to ye first before doing it, or made it more than symbolic, made it financial, or painted it with the ARC (Abortion Rights Campaign) colours.

But as a former PR professional, I’m looking at this and thinking, ‘Oh my god, look how far the abortion rights campaign has come, look how far the campaign to repeal the 8th has come.’ Totally fine with everybody who feels really upset about it, but, same time, such a victory.

 

Would you agree with the assertion coming from the pro-choice side of the debate on this, that the ad campaign is exploitative of an ongoing struggle for women’s equality in Ireland?

Yes, but as someone who used to work in public relations,  I’ve dabbled in advertising, I would be hard pressed to find an advertising campaign that isn’t exploitative of somebody or another.

 

Okay. Actually that’s a point that nobody seems to have brought up, until now.

Yeah. Most ads exploit stereotypes, gender roles, people of colour. I was on the subway platform the other day, and I saw they were taking pictures for, it must’ve been an advert for Transport Police, and I’m like, oh they got their Asian, their black and their white!

 

It’s like looking at college campus adverts and they’re trying to make it look diverse!

Exactly! Are they jumping on the bandwagon? Yeah, but they chose OUR bandwagon! The people who are like, ‘oh it’s just a fashion statement’, those are the people who are never gonna be on our side anyway.

 

See, I’d never thought of it that way, that it’s similar to other campaigns that have a kind of tokenism about them. ‘We have to appeal to this demographic and that demographic’ –the pro-choice demographic is quite a feckin’ large demographic! It kind of covers everything.

Which is kinda great!

 Yeah! Carphone Warehouse have stated, in response to people’s outrage at their campaign, that the term ‘pro-choice’ is now a term in the everyday vernacular and effectively highlights what our brand is all about”. Would you agree with that assertion, or does common sense prevail in that the term ‘pro-choice’ is still heavily rooted in the discussion of women’s bodily autonomy, and can’t, or at least shouldn’t, be used to describe having a choice in the capitalist sense?

So they’re saying that ‘pro-choice’ is just a common phrase and isn’t necessarily involved with abortion?

They’re trying to remove it from the political aspect of it or from the personal-

Nah! I call bullshit!

A lot of people are, actually.

Yeah, I call bullshit on that. They knew what they were doing, unless they’re really stupid, and I don’t know who their agency is, but having worked in an agency, there are some stupid people that work in agencies but they look this stuff up, y’know, when you run a campaign. We had a logo competition recently and one of the logos we quite liked, we realized it looked a lot like the refugee logos, so we didn’t use it, because it’s an image that’s associated with refugees, and we’re not a refugee charity. We help refugees, we have been known to help refugees, migrants, asylum seekers, travellers.

But it wouldn’t be exclusively.

No, not exclusively, so we didn’t want to confuse things. Pro-choice is pro-choice. Everybody knows. Anybody who was in Dublin on the 24th of September, anybody within shouting distance of Dublin on the 24th of September knows what pro-choice is.

 Now there’s been a definite sea change in attitudes towards abortion rights in Ireland as you mentioned earlier about how if this campaign had been around earlier, it wouldn’t have been around at all. If Carphone Warehouse were to take a definitive stance on this issue in the future, with a campaign like this, could you foresee other businesses doing the same, similar to businesses declaring their support of a Yes vote during the Marriage Equality campaign in the middle of last year?

I’d love it if they did. I would really love it if they did. I mean, I’m not in Ireland and I’m not Irish, but I know that in the States, corporate support for abortion funding was always difficult, but then corporate support of organizations like Planned Parenthood hasn’t necessarily – god knows Hilary Clinton has corporate support, and she’s arguably pro-choice. I would love it if it became the cool thing for corporates to show their support for abortion, because it starts with an ad campaign, and ends with employee giving. We’ll take it, I’ll take it all!

I mean, I really get the whole ‘it’s capitalistic, it’s consumeristic, it’s co-optive’, but y’know, I run an abortion fund, and we will take money from anyone who will let us take their money and buy abortions with it. That’s it, and occasionally somebody will give us money that we maybe don’t agree with everything that they say or do, but at the end of the day we’re gonna take their money and we’re gonna buy some abortions with it. I would take money from Donald Trump and buy abortions with it! I would LOVE to take money from Cora Sherlock and buy some abortions with it!

Actually the next question is about her!

(Laughs) I love Cora!

 

Our lovely friend Cora Sherlock of the Pro Life Campaign has responded to the campaign by stating that ‘many customers of Carphone Warehouse are women who deeply regret their abortions, or families who say their children are alive because they considered abortion but changed their minds.’ What would be your response to this assertion, bearing in mind that there are also many customers of Carphone Warehouse who are women that have arranged their abortions with the help of Carphone Warehouse’s services?

I think that if they considered abortion and then changed their minds, they had a choice. I think there’s very little that the Pro Life Campaign says that I’d agree with. Again, let’s look at any advertising campaign: should McDonalds stop advertising because there’s vegetarians?

Do you feel that the company’s trivialisation of the issue of abortion rights is timely, especially considering the government’s very recent decision not to call a referendum until at least 2018?

You say trivialisation, I say normalization.

 

Do you feel like it’s timely though?

Yeah, I mean, that’s why they did it, right? If it wasn’t timely, they wouldn’t have done it, if it wouldn’t have gotten them tons of free press, they wouldn’t have done it. I mean, I feel like abortion hasn’t left the headlines since 2012, literally since 2012, since-

 

Savita?

No, no, before Savita, since the Youth Defence ads. So there were the Youth Defence ads over the summer, ‘Abortion tears her life apart, there’s always a better way.’

 

Oh, I forgot about them completely.

And then there was the March for Choice before Savita that over 3,000 people went to, and then the Marie Stopes Belfast clinic opened, and then Savita. So if those ads hadn’t happened over the summer, if the march hadn’t happened in September, I think not as many people would’ve been motivated. I think over 3,000 people came to that march in September, and then I think at least 5,000 came for Savita, but if that march hadn’t happened in September there probably would’ve been 3,000 for Savita. I say let’s keep it in the headlines, and let’s keep in the headlines everywhere. 12 women a day, plus god knows how many taking the pills. Hundreds, if not thousands every year; in fact, over a thousand a year, just in the Republic. And that’s just from one provider of the pills. So, well over 5,000 a year terminating, it’s insane. So, let’s put it in all the adverts. Let’s actually make every advert about abortion. Give me a product and I will tie it in, seriously gimme a product!

 

Uhm, the first thing I see in front of me is a video game controller.

A video game controller?

 

Yeah.

(Pause) Oh, okay.

 

(Laughs) I’m straight away thinking of ‘control over your bodily autonomy’!

Control over your bodily autonomy, yeah. Which would you rather have? Control over your console, or control over your bodily autonomy? Repeal the 8th Amendment.

 

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It’s very easy to do.

Yeah. McDonald’s advertisement: can you eat before your abortion? No, you can’t smoke either, for a certain number of hours. Let’s put abortion in everything, let’s have abortion everywhere, until they pass the fucking law.

 

Until they repeal.

She says as someone who can’t vote in the Republic of Ireland! I’m already planning to have bake sales for people to fly home to vote to repeal the 8th. We’re already on that shit.

 

Any final words on the issue/campaign?

I think I’m good, like we’re over here, we’re doin’ our thing. The stuff that happens (in Ireland) is interesting, and we can’t wait for y’all to make us obsolete!

I think it’s good to look at this from more than one angle, and I like the fact that after having this conversation with me, you are now thinking about this as a success for the campaign, and also looking at how advertising works in general, and not just thinking specifically thinking about this one thing. Sometimes I feel that we who are on the left, and we who work for sort of ‘unsavoury’ or ‘controversial’ causes, are so used to fighting our corner and fighting our battle, and it is hard to fight, sometimes we need to remember that not everything needs- you have to pick your battles. But I’m not over there (in Ireland), and I think it’s good to recognise the good things about this. I’m not saying everything about this is good, and I can absolutely, I completely am in agreement with the stuff that’s not good about it, but I’m so overwhelmed by what is good about it.

 

You’re looking at it from a very positive way that I think a lot of people seem to have shied away from in the last few days. People are taking a very kind of aggressive stance against it, for one reason or another. It’s kind of refreshing to hear someone say ‘look on the bright side!’

Well I run an abortion fund, and if I didn’t look on the bright side of most situations, we would’ve closed up shop years ago!

 

Abortion Support Network provides financial assistance and accommodation to pregnant people travelling from the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man. They also provide confidential, non-judgmental information to anyone who contacts them via phone or email who is seeking information about travelling to England for an abortion, as well as information about reputable providers of early medical abortion pills by post. You can visit their site at https://www.asn.org.uk/

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