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The abortion debate is causing a stir in the middle of fall fundraising for radio station WDUQ in Pittsburgh. It's an NPR member station licensed to Duquesne University, a Catholic institution. And it has stopped running underwriting messages from Planned Parenthood.
NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.
CHERYL CORLEY: You hear them all the time on public radio stations, underwriting messages like this one.
(Soundbite of radio ad)
Unidentified Man: Support for DUQ comes from Planned Parenthood, providing health care services…
CORLEY: Kimberly Evert is head of Planned Parenthood in Western Pennsylvania, which supports abortion. But she says the spots, 10 in all, were designed to promote other services offered by 13 of the organization's affiliates in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.
Ms. KIMBERLY EVERT: (CEO, Planned Parenthood, Western Pennsylvania): We talk about cervical and breast cancer screening, sexuality education, prevention of sexually transmitted infection, abstinence education.
CORLEY: There is no mention of abortion services, but nonetheless, the underwriting was pulled off the air. Duquesne University holds the license to WDUQ. And university spokeswoman Bridget Fare says the organization's underwriting campaign was inappropriate.
Ms. BRIDGET FARE (Spokeswoman, Duquesne University): This is not about what an individual may believe about the Catholic Church or about Planned Parenthood and their services. This is about our institution's obligation and legal right to stand up for its own principles.
CORLEY: There have been other instances where public radio stations have refused underwriting. One of the more controversial occurred eight years ago in St. Louis when the Ku Klux Klan took a station to court in an effort to sponsor programming. In that instance, the courts affirmed that the station was not required by the FCC or federal law to accept underwriting from any and every organization.
In this case, in Pittsburgh, WDUQ's general manager, Scott Hanley, says the station decided to return Planned Parenthood's $5,000.
Mr. SCOTT HANLEY (General Manager, WDUQ): The station is respecting the Catholic nature and identity of its licensee in terms of accepting a gift.
Ms. EVERT: The problematic part of that for us is in order to be an underwriter for this public radio station, you have to be an organization that's consistent with Catholic doctrine.
CORLEY: Planned Parenthood's Kimberly Everett.
Ms. EVERT: And I think it's raised questions for supporters of the radio station about whether or not there is the needed independence for news reporting.
CORLEY: But general manager Hanley calls that type of criticism unfair. He says there is a clear distinction between the station's finances and the workings of its newsroom and programming, and always has been.
Mr. HANLEY: We routinely present stories and information of controversy and concern that are contrary to the interests of the Catholic Church, contrary to the interests of the university itself. And we have never had any editorial interference in any programming decision we've made here at DUQ.
CORLEY: Planned Parenthood's underwriting campaign continues to run on four other public radio stations in the region. And while Evert says she would like WDUQ to reconsider and accept the organization's donation as well as its message, Duquesne University says that won't happen.
Cheryl Corley, NPR News.
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