Hopkins doctor disavows ad against abortion law

October 02, 1992|By Sandy Banisky | Sandy Banisky,Staff Writer

Dr. Ben Carson, the Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon featured in commercials urging voters to reject a new abortion law, yesterday disavowed the ad -- saying he didn't realize he was making a political spot and wishes he hadn't.

"Had I done the appropriate amount of research, certainly there are statements I would not have made," Dr. Carson said yesterday at a news conference organized by Maryland for Choice, the group leading the campaign for approval of the new law.

Dr. Carson said that he taped the 30-second spot for the Vote kNOw Coalition, which is campaigning against the new abortion law -- Question 6 on the November ballot -- because he wanted to tell voters to study the issue before going to the polls.

Instead, he said, he found himself espousing a political position. And, although he stopped short of saying that the ad inaccurately describes the law, he said that parts of the ad need "explanation to attain accuracy."

"My intention was not to make a campaign commercial," Dr. Carson said. "And, in fact, I did not understand that the tag line 'Vote Against Question 6' would be included in the ad." He asked that the ad be pulled from the Baltimore and Washington airwaves "so that my position on this issue is not misconstrued."

Vote kNOw spokesmen say the commercial's run ended Sept. 30. At the Vote kNOw Coalition, Ellen Curro, the executive director, said she was surprised by Dr. Carson's change of heart.

"It seems he has been greatly pressured" to change his mind, she said. "And it's just a shame that someone of his stature has been made to feel he's done something wrong."

"Here's a guy who was on board at every step of the process and then he pops up at a Maryland for Choice press conference," said Tom Berriman, spokesman for Vote kNOw Coalition. "I'll leave it to you to decide what happened."

Ms. Curro said she was in the studio the night Dr. Carson taped the commercial. "He was happy to be there, glad to be able to help," she said. The doctor also revised the script, "rearranging things in terms of what he was comfortable saying," Ms. Curro added. The script that Dr. Carson worked on included the "Vote Against Question 6" tag line, she said. The ad, which ran for about 10 days, featured Dr. Carson, dressed in hospital scrubs and speaking in gentle tones, urging voters to "not be duped" when they vote on Question 6, a new abortion law, at the polls. The law would keep most abortions here legal, even if the U.S. Supreme Court should overturn its Roe vs. Wade ruling.

Dr. Carson said that the first time he saw the ad on television he felt he had made a mistake. "I would never feel comfortable using my position as a public figure to influence voters on such a private issue," he said.

The pediatric neurosurgeon, who often counsels women who learn they are carrying fetuses with severe genetic defects, said he opposes abortion but routinely refers patients to doctors who will perform them.

"I was asked by a friend to appear in the advertisement and did not realize the full political implications of that action," he said.

Once the ad began running, a doctor who supports the law approached Dr. Carson and told him she believed that he misunderstood the statute, said Stacie Spector, head of Maryland for Choice.

This week, Dr. Carson discussed the law with Ms. Spector and a legislator, whom she declined to identify. Then, Ms. Spector said, the doctor said he wanted to make a statement.

"I didn't tell him what to say or not say," Ms. Spector said. "It's his statement."

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