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A pro-lifer in the 1990s runs for office in order to run campaign ads that expose the horrors of abortion


Image from campaign video by Bailey for Life for Congress Campaign, 1992.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Thursday, October 19th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.

Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown.

Coming next on The World and Everything in It: Using images of death to point voters to life.

Now, a quick word of warning: This story deals with some disturbing realities about abortion. If you have little ones listening, it might be a good idea to push pause and come back later.

Back in April, we told you about a man named Michael Bailey who builds homes from historic materials. But 30 years ago, Bailey had another mission: that of using disturbing images and a little known law to pull back the curtain on the horrors of abortion. Here’s WORLD Associate Correspondent Travis Kircher.

SIRI: Arrived.
BAILEY: It tells you you’re finally here?
TRAVIS: Yeah.
BAILEY: [LAUGHS] That’s funny!

TRAVIS KIRCHER, REPORTER: The last thing Michael Bailey looks like is a Congressional candidate. At 66 years old, you typically won’t find him in a suit and tie anymore. He’s more of a toboggan hat, steel-toed boots and heavy gloves kind of a guy.

But 30 years ago, Bailey decided he had to run for Congress. That’s the only way he could get his controversial pro-life ads on the air.

BAILEY: I went to all my friends and buddies and said, you know, “Hey! Now we’ve got a way to get the truth of abortion on television.”

It started in the 1980s, when Bailey was young, clean shaven, and owned his own ad company. He and his wife, Lori, got involved in the pro-life movement.

One day, at a crisis pregnancy center banquet in Indianapolis, they heard a speech from syndicated columnist Cal Thomas.

BAILEY: And Cal just screamed out during his talk, “Where are the pictures?” So he was bringing home the fact that the reason that we’re not winning this abortion battle in the hearts and minds of people is that we’re not showing the pictures.

Bailey had an idea: With his marketing background, he would create television ads showing the bodies of aborted babies. Those images might change the minds of viewers. But he couldn’t find a TV station willing to run the ads.

Discouraged, Bailey put his idea on hold—until he happened to discover a little known legal option.

BAILEY: I was reading a book about politics and it had a chapter about the Reasonable Access Law. Greatest law ever been written! [LAUGHS]

The Reasonable Access Law prohibits television stations from censoring political ads from federal candidates.

BAILEY: So then if you run for the president or U.S. Senate or the U.S. House, you can give them a TV commercial on any subject any way you want to say it, and if they edit it, they could lose their FCC license. I mean, there’s bite into this law. Well anyway, when I read that, I just went, “Eureka! Praise God!”

So in 1992, with no political experience, Bailey announced his candidacy as a Republican running for the U.S. House of Representatives in Indiana. And his graphic pro-life ads started hitting the airwaves.

ANNOUNCER: Warning! The following commercial has been paid for by the Bailey for Life for Congress Committee and is not suitable for small children!

One of the ads began by showing images of happy, playful babies.

ANNOUNCER: This is choice A.

It then cut to gruesome pictures of what Bailey said were the bodies of aborted babies.

ANNOUNCER: This is Choice B. [SCARY MUSIC]

BAILEY (ON AD): When something is so horrifying that we’re afraid to look at it, then why are we tolerating it? Pro choice is a lie. These babies would never choose to die.

Bailey said station managers were furious, but legally obligated to run the ads. Ted Linn was executive news producer at WISH-TV in Indianapolis at the time. Here he is on C-SPAN in 1992.

LINN: And so, Michael Bailey approached WISH-TV with this spot which showed aborted fetuses. It actually showed them, of course. Our general manager, Paul Karpowicz, did everything he could to fight this spot. Paul is a – well, he’s a good Catholic.

The public display of graphic abortion images—what’s sometimes called abortion victim photography—is controversial, even among pro-life advocates.

Simcha Fisher is a freelance writer who once wrote for the National Catholic Register. She calls the images a weapon of last resort, and believes they should never be placed on public display.

FISHER: When we use photos of aborted babies, it’s extremely important to remember that these are actual children. These are individuals who are made with a human soul by God, individually. And they’re not political props. They’re not arguments. They’re not talking points, they’re people. And it’s wrong to kill a person and it’s also wrong to use a person. And we shouldn’t be using people. Period.

Fisher also says the images could traumatize children, or women who have suffered miscarriages.

The ads certainly got attention. Bailey says he received hugs from some strangers—and crude gestures from others.

BAILEY: Women would call our offices freaking out – cussing us out.

Bailey would go on to win the Republican primary, but ultimately fall to the Democratic incumbent in the general election. He would run three more times—the last time in 2000. Each time he failed to win office.

AUDIO: [Sound of unscrewing tin from the ceiling]

That was then. Today, Bailey is busy building and restoring log cabins. Looking back, he admits he might have done things differently.

BAILEY: I think I was a little brash, but maybe I needed that at that time, because there was nobody supporting me.

He has no plans to run again. He says he’s in a different season of life—and it’s time to turn the movement over to a new generation of pro-life activists.

But Bailey is satisfied with what he accomplished. He saw himself as a social reformer documenting the injustices of his day. Each time he ran for office, his ads made the airwaves. That—to Bailey—was a victory.

BAILEY: Sure, I didn’t make any money in those years and I spent a lot of my own money. But not to do what you feel in your heart you’re called to do would be way worse.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Travis Kircher, in Corydon and Lanesville, Indiana.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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