Warning to people who live in the Washington, D.C. area and watch television: You may be about to see some incredibly graphic and misleading anti-abortion ads. And the stations say they have no choice but to show them.
A fringe candidate, Missy Smith, is running against Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton. The first line of one of her ads is, "I killed two of my babies by abortion." The images are the standard ones you see protesters wield outside clinics, where it's not clear that the bloodied fetuses, which are in very late stages of development, even have anything to with abortions. A reminder: 88 percent of abortions take place in the first 12 weeks, and 62 percent before nine weeks.
So why can't the stations just turn them away? A lawyer for Allbritton, which owns several stations as well as Politico, told Politico's Ben Smith that legal precedent required them to run the ads. In 1992, a candidate managed to get an ad like this on an Atlanta station:
"The station asked the FCC for permission to channel the spot into time periods when children would be less likely to be in the audience — late night. Other broadcasters joined in and asked the Commission for the right to refuse the spot altogether," Fritz emails. "The FCC gave permission to permit the channeling, but Becker appealed. The DC Court of Appeals found for the candidate in a 1996 decision."
The reason, per Fritz: The Communications Act requires broadcast stations to sell "reasonable amounts" of ad time to qualified Federal candidates, and bars stations from making any changes to those spots, in what's known as the "no censorship" provision.
Such tactics force pro-choice advocates into uncomfortable positions. Ignoring the ads would appear to be tacit endorsements of their misleading content. Buying ads to counteract them would arguably siphon off resources better used in actually improving abortion access for the women who need it. (That was an argument we heard with the Tim Tebow Super Bowl ad, which was far more coded.)