Dead fetuses shown on TV via loophole U.S. candidates air anti-abortion ads

September 06, 1992|By Sandy Banisky | Sandy Banisky,Staff Writer

The pictures are shocking and bloody, and Bryant Richardson doesn't apologize for pushing them right into Delaware living rooms. As he runs in the state's Republican congressional primary, Mr. Richardson is confronting voters with dead fetuses in prime time.

"Pictures of aborted fetuses are the most powerful way to end abortion," says Mr. Richardson, a Seaford resident making his first run for office.

He's part of a phenomenon new in this political year: anti-abortion candidates taking advantage of a legal loophole to get their uncompromising message, finally, on television.

Under Federal Communications Commission regulations, television stations that accept political advertising cannot refuse or censor any federal candidate's ads -- no matter what the content, no matter how many viewers protest.

Michael E. Bailey, an Indiana advertising executive who had failed in past attempts to get graphic anti-abortion commercials on television, says he found the opening in the law and was inspired to become a politician.

"I admit I decided to run for Congress to put the ads on," says Mr. Bailey, who had never run for office before he entered and won the Republican primary campaign in Indiana's 9th District in the spring.

And now that he's facing 14-term Indiana Rep. Lee H. Hamilton in the general election, Mr. Bailey says he intends to spend about $150,000 on television advertising -- with at least half of his ads featuring dead fetuses.

A spokeswoman for the National Abortion Rights Action League says the ads only "terrorize viewers." And some critics say the commercials, instead of converting viewers, will backfire -- bringing people out to vote against the candidates who run them.

But Mr. Bailey is unmoved.

"We're a breed of candidate who doesn't care," he said from his Indiana office. "We don't fear the voter as much as we fear God."

No matter if Mr. Bailey loses in November, he's already won. He managed to put on television the gory pictures that he is certain will lead to the outlawing of abortion.

"Just by deciding to run, you gain a tremendous platform from which to speak," Mr. Bailey says.

So far, such ads have been used by 18 candidates in 14 states, according to Susi Tedrick at American Portrait Films, a Christian production company in Cleveland that supplies the footage. Most of the candidates have lost. But enough, like Mr. Bailey, have won and thereby inspired others to try the strategy.

The commercials share the same videotape, featuring tiny bodies curled in buckets and close-ups of lifeless fetal faces.

They're scenes that broadcasters would reject without question if the footage weren't included in a political ad.

Last month, attorneys representing several broadcasters urged the FCC to rule the ads "indecent" -- which would allow stations to refuse to air them during hours when small children might be watching. The FCC, however, declined to say the ads fit that definition.

In Delaware, Mr. Richardson -- who said he himself was converted to the cause by graphic photos of fetuses -- has limited the running of his ads to between 9 p.m. and midnight. He says he's not sure small children should watch them.

But other candidates have not had such concerns. In Georgia, the ads ran during baseball broadcasts.

And Mr. Bailey doesn't think the commercials should be restricted. "I don't think it's wrong for children to see the ad," says Mr. Bailey, the father of five. "It's reality. We want to teach our children that there's a terrible holocaust going on in America."

Since his primary victory, Mr. Bailey has shared his spots with candidates such as Mr. Richardson. The Delaware commercials are identical to one of Mr. Bailey's, with Mr. Richardson's face substituted for the Indianan's.

"I can't say I feel good about airing the commercials," says Mr. Richardson, 46, who is on leave from his job as editor and general manager of a Seaford newspaper. "However, I feel strongly that it is essential that the public knows the truth about abortion."

Abortion wasn't an issue in the Delaware congressional race, the other candidates say, until Mr. Richardson made it one.

Janet Rzewnicki, the Delaware state treasurer who is a candidate in the Sept. 12 Republican congressional primary, says Mr. Richardson is "just using his candidacy to talk about abortion."

Gov. Michael N. Castle, who also is running for the Republican nomination, says voters are more concerned with education, the economy and the environment than abortion.

"I certainly am not concerned that this is going to generate a lot of votes," he said of Mr. Richardson's commercials. Mr. Richardson has received a lot of publicity, but "I don't think it's the candidate that's of particular note. It's the ad that draws the attention," the governor said.

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