If you’re travelling about town, you’re sure to see one of our ads, throughout the the city. While most of our advertising is received well from the community, a complaint was filed in April of this year with the Advertising Standards Council regarding our heartbeat ad.

The Complainant stated:

This advertisement implies that a fetus is a child, and therefore that abortion is murder. I see this advertisement on my daily walks with my child and not only find it offends my personal sensibilities, but is blatantly fear mongering and inaccurate. I believe this ad violates the following sections: Section 1: unsupported claims, misleading claims, Section 8: Inaccurate scientific claims, And potentially, Section 11: appeal to superstition.

See Cambridge Right to Life’s response and references printed below:

We believe that our ad, noted in Complaint # 152175, does not breach Section #1 of the Code for Accuracy and Clarity – it is accurate and is clear, while also backed scientifically and could not possibly be designated inaccurate, misleading or unclear. We have addressed Section 1 Accuracy and Clarity in the first references where all evidence points to a human heart beating for the first time at “about 22 days”, In one of the last references under “Other”  a study is now questioning whether the human heart may actually begin beating at 16 days after fertilization and therefore we believe our statement ”a baby’s heart begins at 21 days” is not an inaccurate statement, during this exciting time in human development research.

We were also asked to address Section 11 “Superstition and Fear” which we have done in the second set of references. The following quote on the human development of an individual human being gives certainty to the fact that human life is a continuum from fertilization to death.

“The [human] zygote acts immediately and decisively to initiate a program of development that will, if uninterrupted by accident, disease, or external intervention, proceed seamlessly through formation of the definitive body, birth, childhood, adolescence, maturity, and aging, ending with death. This coordinated behavior is the very hallmark of an organism.”

Maureen L. Condic, “When Does Human Life Begin? A Scientific Perspective,” The Westchester Institute for Ethics and the Human Person, Westchester Institute White Paper Series 1, no. 1 (October 2008): 7 

We are a little unclear why section 11 of the Code would be applied to our ad. Since, if by referring to the time a baby’s heart starting beating, obviously implied but not stated, in the womb” we are considered to be spreading superstition and fear, then we contend that the Canadian Medical Association, Health Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Canada Pre-natal Nutrition Program should have the same accusation levelled toward them, since each refers to the preborn child as a baby on many occasions in the references we have provided.

We believe this to be a frivolous complaint stemming from an ideology that appears not to be scientifically, nor factually based. The Criminal Code of Canada defines the pre born as a child and also mentions in the note on 223 (2) “killing child”. Since a child needs to be legally defined as a human being in order for the act to be deemed homicide the correct term would be killing not murder while the Code states what it does currently. Our ad neither stated killing nor murder and we should not be punished by the complainant’s own interpretation of a very clear, accurate and factual message they did not like.


Cambridge Right to Life

We are happy to report the the Ad Standards ruled in our favour

The Advertising Standards Council responded in part by saying:

“Under the Code, the onus is on the advertiser to substantiate the claims included in its advertising if challenged in a complaint. Council appreciated the thoroughness of the advertiser’s response and determined that the advertiser did provide reasonably adequate substantiation as required under Clause 1(e) of the Code. However, after a lengthy debate, the majority of Council concluded that, due to a lack of consensus in studies publicly available, they could not determine with certainty whether a foetus heart begins to beat at 21 days. Indeed, Council noted that statements from recognized authorities, such as Health Canada, refers to when a foetus heart can be detected, not when it starts beating. However, the majority of Council members agreed that the lack of consensus was insufficient to cast doubt on the veracity of the claim.

 Then, Council focused its attention on the general impression conveyed by the advertisement in light of the fear mongering concerns raised by the complainant. With an understanding that this advertisement was primarily focused on a message of advocacy, Council unanimously agreed that the imagery did not exploit superstitions, nor play upon fears to mislead the public. This general impression was emphasized by the claim stating “Choose Love, Choose Life!”

Finally, Council members addressed whether the partial portrayal of a born child and reference to a baby’s heart when pointing out to an embryo’s heartbeat might cause confusion for the public about the definition of when a child becomes human being as included within section 223(1) & 223(2) of the Criminal Code of Canada. The majority of Council members were of the view that the ad did not imply that choosing to terminate a pregnancy equal to a criminal act as alleged by the complainant.

For these reasons, Council determined that the ad did not contravene Clause 1(a) (Accuracy and Clarity), nor Clause 11 (Superstitions and Fears) of the Code.”

The complainant is entitled to request an appeal within seven working days following receipt of this letter if they disagree with a decision of Council.