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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

More Mischief in Massachusetts

Last week we barely dipped our toe in the torrent of ads blanketing Massachusetts, where voters are going to the polls today to decide who will replace the late Sen. Ted Kennedy: Democrat Martha Coakley or Republican Scott Brown. There have been more since in the close race, too many for us to keep up with.

But we found one single-issue flier sent out by the Massachusetts Democratic Party particularly offensive and off-base. The background of the flier shows blurry images of women on which these words are superimposed: "1,736 women were raped in Massachusetts in 2008. Scott Brown wants hospitals to turn them all away."

Whoa there. The accusation refers to an amendment Brown sponsored in the state Senate in 2005 to a bill requiring that emergency contraceptives be made available to rape victims. As we noted last week, his provision would have created an exception allowing doctors and nurses to opt out of providing the contraception if to do so would conflict with their "sincerely held religious belief." In such cases, the victims were to be referred to another facility if nobody could be found on-site to administer the drug.

To our knowledge, Brown has never indicated that he "wants hospitals to turn [rape victims] all away." That would imply that he didn’t think they should be treated at all, by any hospital.

The amendment failed. But Brown voted for the underlying bill, requiring that emergency contraceptives be provided if rape victims desired them, anyway, contrary to the flier’s implication.

The reverse side of the mailer edges closer to reality.  A woman is shown sitting in a wheelchair, head down. "Scott Brown would allow hospitals to ban emergency contraception – birth control even after women are raped." It quotes the state Senate’s Republican leader criticizing Brown’s amendment. But those readers who have seen the front, with its big, stark – and misleading – words already may have formed their impressions.

Brown’s campaign has filed a criminal complaint against the state Democratic Party for circulating the flier, according to The Boston Globe.