An advertorial titled “Mother asked to kill her own child” that was published in The Times of India on Wednesday has drawn strong objections from health and women rights activists. The ad promoted the first episode of reality show Zindagi ke Crossroads on Sony Entertainment Television. The episode, which was about a woman trying to decide whether she should abort her foetus with genetic abnormalities, was aired on Wednesday night.

The ad and the show were “misleading, discriminatory towards women and stigmatise abortion and abortion seekers”, said Pratigya, a campaign for gender equality and safe abortion.

Several activists also criticised the ad for equating abortion with killing. In India, the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 allows women to terminate their pregnancy under certain circumstances.

The feminist health activist Deepa Venkatachalam described the ad as shocking. “The level of callousness is quite objectionable and this promotional material is an affront to all the struggles that women face in accessing safe abortions,” she said. “The fact that a public media platform thought of having an advertisement which equates abortion to killing is extremely disturbing.”

The show involves having a studio audience discussion crucial decisions made by characters in fictional situations that are evidently drawn from real-life, according to the producers.

‘Not helping anybody’

Experts are concerned that such ads could undermine the right of women to take decisions about their reproductive health. “The decision to terminate a pregnancy is personal, and several courts have upheld the view that the decision to terminate is of the woman,” said Dr AL Sharda, director of Population First, which is involved with a campaign to sensitise the media about producing gender-sensitive reports and ads.

Sharda said the advertorial gave the impression that abortion is a crime even though it is legal in India. “We are glad that the subject is being discussed in the open but a insensitive portrayal may do more harm than good, affecting the access to abortion for women,” said Sharda, who is also a part of Pratigya.

Venkatachalam said the language of the advertorial was regressive and took an “extremely judgemental” stand on abortion and disability. “We should be more careful as they are already stigmatised and such advertisements discussing the issue of abortion in such an insensitive manner is not helping anybody,” she said.

Sama, a resource group working on issues related to women and health, demanded that the “irresponsible and violative advertising and show content be discontinued immediately”. The show is available online. The group is writing to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare as well as the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to “take necessary steps to ensure that such regressive, discriminatory broadcasts and publicity resources that violate human rights are disallowed.” emailed questions about the advertorial and the episode to Sony Entertainment. This story will be updated if the company responds.