CREDIT: Mike Hutmacher / The Wichita Eagle
Media giant Clear Channel is reversing its decision to ban radio ad spots publicizing a Kansas-area abortion clinic, following pressure from thousands of activists who signed onto a petition criticizing the company for pulling the ads last month. Clear Channel officials say that the petition, which garnered 68,000 signatures, did not influence their decision to reconsider the ads.
The ads intended to inform the Wichita community about the South Wind Women’s Center, which is the only clinic in the city that offers abortion services. Neither of the two ads actually mentions abortion, birth control, or sex. “South Wind Women’s Center was founded to reestablish full access to reproductive healthcare,” one of the radio ads states. “The center provides high-quality medical care and trusts women to make the best decisions for themselves and their families.”
Nevertheless, Clear Channel claimed that the clinic’s ads violated their “decency standards” and refused to run them. They were yanked from Clear Channel’s KZSN on the same day that they began airing.
That sparked outrage from reproductive health advocates, who pointed out that women’s health care is not indecent or divisive. Women, Action, & the Media (WAM) organized the push-back against Clear Channel, encouraging people to call the media giant’s operations manager and ask him to stop blocking the ads. “The Clear Channel ban sets a terrible precedent in which private corporations can restrict women’s access to possibly life-saving information, just to please a small minority of vocal extremists,” WAM’s petition reads. “If we let this stand in Wichita, what city will be next?”
WAM was preparing to deliver the 68,000 petition signatures to Clear Channel’s offices on Wednesday. But on Tuesday night, the company announced that they had reconsidered their stance on South Wind’s ads. Clear Channel’s operations manager, Tony Matteo, said the media conglomerate has determined the ads don’t violate the law and will resume airing them. The ads will start running again on Labor Day.
“Based on a thoughtful discussion that we had with the advertiser, we believed that it made sense to take a closer look at the criteria by which we determine whether an advertisement should air,” Matteo said. “While we recognize that certain advertising may stir passionate viewpoints, KZSN has determined that as a responsible broadcaster, we should use our best judgment to accept and run ads that do not violate the law or FCC standards and which are not intentionally hateful and incendiary.”
Matteo also noted that Clear Channel’s decisions about what types of ads to run aren’t motivated by any “political point of view.”
Julie Burkhart, the owner of the South Wind’s Women Center, told the Washington Post that it’s important to push Clear Channel on this issue because it helps lessen the stigma surrounding reproductive care like abortion. “I think that is part of our effort to continue to normalize our work as a medical provider and facility — to be able to communicate with women and their families in this community about the services that we offer and to let people in the community know we are here for them,” she explained.
South Wind occupies the same building that used to house slain Dr. George Tiller’s former abortion clinic, and women’s health advocates have met fierce resistance from the anti-choice community as they have worked to re-open the clinic to the public. Burkhart has personally faced considerable backlash over the past year, including violent threats and protests outside of her home.