WASHINGTON — The FCC ruled in late November that television stations cannot ban graphic anti-abortion images in paid advertisements by political campaigns, which have generated thousands of complaints from the public over the past two years.
The Commission decided two weeks after the elections that television stations may reschedule political advertisements containing graphic abortion imagery, such as bloody aborted fetuses, into time slots when children are less likely to be in the audience. However, they cannot refuse to run an ad or move it to a different time slot because they disagree with the political message.
Ruling on the issue before the elections was not paramount since “there weren’t that many [anti-abortion ads used in campaigns] this time,” said FCC spokesman Milton Gross. FCC Chairman Reed Hundt had previously stated that he hoped to settle the matter before the election.
When the controversy first arose during the 1992 elections, the FCC issued an informal ruling that stations which deemed the ads indecent could relegate them to the 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. “safe harbor” hours.
Many anti-abortion candidates in the 1992 campaign fought stations to have their ads aired during the time period for which they paid, since federal law requires stations to sell spots to all qualified federal candidates.
Michael Bailey, a Republican from Indiana’s 9th District who ran for U.S. Congress in 1992 using graphic abortion ads which inspired other anti-abortion candidates, asked the Commission to rule against two stations who were hesitant to air his commercials.
WHAS-TV in Louisville, Kentucky decided to limit Bailey’s commercials to the safe harbor hours. WTHR in Indianapolis refused to air the commercials at all.
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