Missy Smith, who is running against longtime Democrat incumbent Eleanor Holmes Norton in the race to Washington D.C.’s delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives, is out with what may be the most controversial ad of this campaign season (and that’s really saying something). (Note: The images diplayed in the ad are extremely graphic.)

Smith, a pro-life activist who was motivated to take up the cause after aborting two of her own babies, is using her campaign to drive home her conviction that more Americans will oppose abortion if they are allowed to see it for what it is. And, toward that end, since last Thursday her campaign has been airing TV spots depicting graphic images of post-abortion fetuses/babies.

The 30-second spots have been seen on Oprah, The Tonight Show, Ellen DeGeneres, Dr. Phil, Seinfeld, The Office and Saturday Night Live, among several other news and entertainment programs. Several of the ads also ran on African-American led shows such as Judge Joe Brown and Everybody Hates Chris in hopes of reaching an audience Smith believes has been particularly victimized by abortion. 

The ads are deemed so shocking that they have been preceded by 15-second warnings that also note that federal law requires that stations do not censor advertising paid for by legally-qualified candidates for public office. YouTube, however, reportedly has pulled the video from its site — replacing it with a notice that explains that the material presented poses “a violation of YouTube’s policy on shocking and disgusting content.”  YouTube has a policy against shocking and disgusting content? Well, yes it does, though it seems you have to go to some lengths to violate it.

It’s certainly true the content of the Smith spots is “shocking and disgusting.” But then so are images of the Holocaust, genocide in Darfur and even Abu Ghraib.  But, as disgusting as those images are, it’s important that they be seen.

Some years ago, while I was working as a producer on a PAX-TV show called Faith Under Fire (which focused on controversies involving faith and religion), we did a segment on abortion and considered the idea of including similar images. I was in favor of it (with an appropriate viewer warning) but it was ultimately decided that doing so would be pushing the envelope past the breaking point.  

It can certainly be argued that the graphic imagery in Smith’s ad is more appropriate in a news program dealing seriously with the issue of abortion than in the middle of Seinfeld. But the fact is 60 Minutes or 20/20 will not be showing us the reality of what happens inside an abortion clinic any time soon. A mainstream media that usually argues in favor of exposing virtually everything to the camera  stops short when it comes to abortion.


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