Abortion issue heads to airwaves

September 22, 1992|By Sandy Banisky | Sandy Banisky,Staff Writer

Six weeks before Election Day, the most expensive and most visible phase of the campaign over Maryland's new abortion law has begun: Both sides are taking to the airwaves.

"This is such an emotional issue that both sides are hitting hard and hitting early," said Arnold J. Kleiner, general manager of WMAR, Channel 2, in Baltimore.

First on Baltimore television is the Vote kNOw Coalition, which is leading the fight to defeat the abortion statute up for referendum Nov. 3. Vote kNOw's initial 30-second spot, which began running over the weekend on WBAL, Channel 11, features a face familiar to many: Dr. Benjamin Carson, a pediatric neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital, urging a vote against the law.

A spokesman said the ads, on every Baltimore station, will run through the end of the month.

The law up for referendum would keep most abortions here legal even if the U. S. Supreme Court should overturn its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

The other side in the campaign, Maryland for Choice, is expected to begin airing its 30-second commercials soon. A spokeswoman said the Maryland for Choice ads will "talk about the law, the truth about the law, and let people know this is a reasonable compromise on a very difficult issue as we reach the pro-choice majority in this state."

Both groups plan to run ads in the Baltimore, Washington, Hagerstown and Salisbury television markets, as well as on cable -- thus saturating the state with competing messages.

Neither side would say how much they intend to spend on television advertising, but each camp has said that commercials, though expensive, are critical to reaching the voters.

Frank Ratermann, WBAL-TV's general sales manager, says the station reviewed the Vote kNOw ad before deciding it was suitable for airing.

But Mr. Kleiner says Channel 2 did not accept the first version it received. "We didn't feel the [labeling] and the ad were totally accurate" in describing how the new law deals with notification of a minor's parents.

"Basically, what the ad said was that notification of parents was not required, and notification is required in certain circumstances," Mr. Kleiner said. "We sent it back, and they're making some adjustments."

Dana Fitzgerald, general sales manager at WJZ, Channel 13, says he expects ads from both groups to be reviewed and to begin airing later this week.

Earlier yesterday, the abortion debate focused on Vote kNOw's contention that the new law would allow a high school guidance counselor to receive a kickback from an abortion clinic for referring a student.

In a news conference, James Guest, head of Planned Parenthood of Maryland and chair of Maryland For Choice, said that Maryland law -- in a section separate from the abortion statute -- prohibits doctors or their representatives, including employees, from soliciting patients or paying for referrals.

He called the accusations "a slander on teachers and guidance counselors."

Lynn Linde, president of the Maryland Association of Guidance and Development, said that professional and ethical standards forbid a counselor's referring a patient and accepting payment. The counselor is bound to try to inform parents of a pregnant student, she said.

And Kathleen Lyons, of the Maryland State Teachers Association, called Vote kNOw's charges a slur on teachers' reputations. Professional standards, she said, forbid a teacher's accepting payments -- even for something so innocuous as tutoring his own students.

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