In North Carolina, meanwhile, allies of Sen. Jesse Helms (R) are trying to keep abortion from taking center stage in his reelection bid. State GOP chairman R. Jack Hawke Jr. has attempted to block the broadcast of television and radio commercials produced by the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) that criticize Helms's opposition to abortion.

Helms is being challenged by Democrat Harvey Gantt, an abortion rights supporter. NARAL said the ads are part of a campaign to defeat Helms and are being run independently of Gantt's campaign.

But Hawke filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission charging that the ads are an illegal campaign contribution. He also has written state television and radio stations, warning them of possible legal difficulties if they air the ads.

"We will consider any suggestion or innuendo in the advertisements that Sen. Helms, or pro-life groups, hate women, are anti-female, are anti-constitutional liberties, or are against the Constitution to be a personal attack on him," Hawke wrote. "We will request free broadcast time to respond to such 'personal attacks.' "

Many television stations chose not to air the spots, saying they do not run advocacy ads. When NARAL began broadcasting radio spots this week, Hawke and Helms campaign chairman Peter Moore sent them similar letters.

"Sen. Helms wants to silence the debate on this critical issue and hide the fact that he wants to make abortion illegal," charged Ruth Ziegler, NARAL's North Carolina director.

Asked to respond to Ziegler, Helms's campaign issued a statement saying, "The people of North Carolina don't agree with NARAL's or Harvey Gantt's extreme liberal positions."