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Abortion issue heats dispute over WDUQ underwriting

Originally published in Current, Oct. 22, 2007
By Steve Behrens

Pittsburgh jazz/news station WDUQ finds itself in the middle of an abortion-politics hardball contest between its licensee, Catholic-run Duquesne University, and Planned Parenthood. Soon after WDUQ began running Planned Parenthood underwriting spots Oct. 8 [2007], the university ordered the station to stop accepting money from a group “not aligned with our Catholic identity,” even though the underwriting went solely to the station.

Though abortion is one of the reproductive health services offered by the local Planned Parenthood affiliate, the word wasn’t used in the spots. The text for one spot said: “Support for WDUQ comes from Planned Parenthood—reducing unintended pregnancy by improving access to contraception.” Another spot mentioned optional abstinence training.

When the spots failed to air Oct. 11, Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania started pitching back. President Kimberlee Evert explained to the New York Times, “Our concern is that we didn’t realize to be an underwriter that you had to agree with Catholic doctrine. And it raises another question of whether this is where NPR programming should be housed.” Later, she told Current: “If Duquesne decides who underwrites, are they deciding the news stories?” But she said couldn’t cite any instances when WDUQ had been selective in its news coverage.

General Manager Scott Hanley said he was disappointed that Planned Parenthood decided to “come after” WDUQ and question its journalistic integrity. Duquesne has never applied “one iota of interference or influence” to control WDUQ news, Hanley said. “We have routinely covered stories that would be controversial in view of the church.”

Web page posted Oct. 27, 2007
Copyright 2007 by Current Publishing Committee


Is there a free-speech right in underwriting? In 1998, a federal court ruled that a university-owned station, KWMU, could reject Ku Klux Klan underwriting.


WDUQ G.M. Scott Hanley reminds listeners that the station was the first to cover the controversy involving its own licensee.

The regional Planned Parenthood agency asks its supporters to write to WDUQ and Duquesne.

NPR covers the story Oct. 17, 2007.

Duquesne was founded by a Catholic order, the Congregation of the Holy Ghost, in 1878.