A television ad released July 16 by the Bush campaign attacks John Kerry’s priorities on “issues that affect our families.” The ad correctly cites two Kerry votes, on parental notification of teen-age abortions and emergency “morning-after” contraception.
This ad oversimplifies two fairly complicated matters, a common failing of 30-second TV spots. Overall, it accurately highlights for voters a deeply divisive issue on which the two candidates disagree fundamentally: John Kerry is a steadfast supporter of abortion rights — even for teenagers — and the President is a strong abortion foe.
The announcer asks “Are these priorities yours?” It’s a fair question. But to answer it voters may wish to have more information than this ad provides. Our analysis offers some further background.
The Bush ad is called “Family Priorities.”The overall message accurately reflects that Kerry is a consistent supporter of abortion rights, even in the case of teenagers. It’s a stark point of disagreement between the two candidates. For each of the past 20 years, Kerry has received a perfect scorecard from the National Abortion Rights Action League with a rating of “100 percent.” For the past several years he’s also gotten a “0 percent” rating from the National Right to Life Committee, whose political action committee endorsed President Bush for re-election.
Bush-Cheney ’04 Ad:
Announcer: When it comes to issues that affect our families, are John Kerry’s priorities the same as yours?
Kerry voted against parental notification for teenage abortions.
Kerry even voted to allow schools to hand out the morning after pill without parents’ knowledge.
He voted to take control away from parents by taking away their right to know.
John Kerry has his priorities. The question is, are they yours?
Right to Know
The ad says “Kerry voted against parental notification for teenage abortions.” Kerry did vote against a “parental notification” amendment in 1991 offered by Republican Sen. Dan Coats of Indiana. That measure would have required that parents or guardians be notified 48 hours in advance of any abortion on a pregnant daughter under age 18 performed by any organization receiving federal family-planning funds. The measure passed the Senate 52-47, mostly along party lines. Kerry was one of 42 Democrats who opposed it.
The Coats amendment had narrow exceptions, requiring that parents be notified unless the pregnancy “resulted from incest with a parent or guardian,” or if a physician determined that an emergency abortion was necessary to save the life of the mother.
Kerry voted for an alternative measure that would have allowed for much broader exceptions. The measure Kerry supported would have allowed a physician to perform an abortion on a teenager without notifying the parents if the doctor determined that she “is mature enough and competent to provide consent” herself, or if the doctor determined that notifying the parent or guardian would lead to abuse or “is not in the best interest of the minor.” The Kerry-supported measure also would have allowed the abortion to proceed without notification to parents if an “adult family member” gave consent. That family member could be an aunt or grandparent — or even a older brother or sister over age 18.
Neither the Coats amendment nor the Kerry-backed measure ever became law: both later were dropped in conference with the House.
Permit Schools to Hand Out the Morning-After Pill?
The ad shows a girl, apparently of middle-school age, boarding a yellow school bus as the announcer says, “Kerry even voted to allow schools to hand out the morning-after pill without parents’ knowledge.”
Actually, this vote had little to do with “parents’ knowledge,” but Kerry did vote in favor of allowing schools to offer emergency contraception to teenagers, something done in relatively few places. Experts say that such pills can, in some cases, be given to students without knowledge of parents, though the legislation in question was silent on that point.
Kerry’s vote, in 2000, was to kill an amendment proposed by Republican Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina to bar the use of federal funds “for the distribution or provision of postcoital emergency contraception” to anyone under age 18 in an elementary or secondary school.
The so-called “morning-after pill” can be taken up to 72 hours after sexual intercourse to stop implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus. Anti-abortion groups oppose its use. Wendy Wright, spokesperson for the Concerned Women for America, put it this way: “Implantation is simply the process by which new life gets nutrition; so it causes the death of that new life.”
Kerry was among 35 Democrats who voted to kill the Helms amendment, but the motion failed 41-54 and the Helms amendment itself went on to pass the Senate by voice vote. Its actual effect would have been limited: only 180 school-based clinics in the US actually offered emergency contraception to students at the time, according to a Congressional Research Service report quoted by the San Antonio Express News in 2001. In any event, the Helms amendment later died in a House-Senate conference, and never became law.
“Common Sense” Notification?
The Kerry campaign responded to the Bush ad by saying he actually supports “common-sense” parental notification laws. But the Kerry news release made no mention of two key exemptions for which Kerry voted: allowing a 19-year-old sibling to give consent to an abortion in place of a parent, or letting a physician determine that it is not in the “best interest” of a pregnant daughter to inform the parents of the abortion. Whether such broad exemptions constitute “common sense” or not is, of course, a matter of opinion with which abortion foes disagree strongly.
Kerry also defends his vote on the morning-after pill as favoring the right of local governments to decide school policy. His news release said, “John Kerry believes parents have more control over local school districts and voted to protect their ability to spend money as they choose.”
Kerry’s campaign news release also said the morning-after pill “does not induce an abortion” but merely “prevents a pregnancy before it occurs,” another opinion contrary to that of abortion opponents.
Watch Bush Ad: “Family Priorities”
NARAL Pro-Choice America, “Congressional Record on Choice,” 1982-2004.
National Right to Life Committee, “NRLC Scorecards,” 1997-2004.
U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 102nd Congress – 1st Session S.Amdt. 756 to S.753 to S.323 Vote #131 16 July 1991.
U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 102nd Congress – 1st Session S.Amdt. 758 to S.323 Vote #130 16 July 1991.
S. Amdt. 3697 to H.R. 4577 Proposed 30 June 2000 Vote #169.
Statement of Wendy Wright, Concerned Women for America in “High noon for the morning-after pill,” Salon.com 20 June 2001.
July Holland, “GOP halts contraception bid,” San Antonio Express News 12 October 2001; 19A.
“Bush-Cheney Ad Factcheck ‘Family Priorities'” John Kerry For President News Release, 15 July 2004.