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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Brown ‘Lying’ About Abortion Stance?

An abortion rights group says that Republican Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts is “straight-up lying” in a new ad that says he is “pro-choice, and he supports a woman’s right to choose.” That’s wrong. Brown has consistently said he is a supporter of abortion rights dating back to 2004, and he urged the GOP this year to change its platform to be more inclusive of Republicans like him. The group’s complaint concerns a few votes on matters such as federal funding and religious conscience clauses that have angered abortion rights organizations and earned support from anti-abortion groups.

Brown is in a tight race for reelection against Democrat Elizabeth Warren. His new ad, titled “Women for Brown,” features several women talking about why they support him. Emily’s List, a group that supports the election of Democratic women who are in favor of abortion rights and has donated to Warren’s campaign, issued a press release criticizing the ad’s claim that Brown is “pro-choice” and its claim that Brown will “fight” for “equal pay” for women. In addition to calling the ad “shockingly dishonest,” the group’s president said that Brown was “straight-up lying.”

Brown’s Abortion Rights Record

Brown has said that he supports abortion rights and some of his votes clearly reflect that — such as a vote last year against defunding Planned Parenthood and a vote on the Armed Services Committee to overturn a ban on women in the military receiving coverage for abortion services at military facilities in cases of rape and incest. Brown also asked the Republican Party to change anti-abortion language in this year’s party platform, saying “I believe this is a mistake because it fails to recognize the views of pro-choice Republicans like myself.”

As far back as 2004, when Brown was campaigning in a Republican primary, he publicly stated that he is in favor of abortion rights. An excerpt from a Jan. 5, 2004, article in Massachusetts’ Sun Chronicle provided to us by the Brown campaign said that “he considers himself pro-choice and adds that abortion is not a big issue in the campaign. Brown said he believes abortion is an issue to be decided between a woman and her doctor.”

And in a 2010 interview with ABC News’ Barbara Walters, Brown said he was in favor of abortion rights but against partial birth abortion and federal funding of abortion. He said he was for “a strong parental consent notification law.”

Brown, Jan. 31, 2010: And you know Roe v. Wade is the law of the land. But I think we need to do more to reduce the amount of abortions. And, and the difference between me and maybe others is that I’m very – I’m against partial birth abortions. I’m against federal funding of abortions. And I believe in a strong parental consent notification law. And, and we should do more for adoptions.

Barbara Walters: But you’re still pro choice?

Brown: Yes. Because I feel this issue is best handled between a woman and her doctor and, and, and her family.

That may not be a good enough stance for groups like Emily’s List, and, in fact, Brown’s voting record has attracted support from anti-abortion groups.

NARAL Says ‘Mixed Choice’

Among the U.S. Senate votes that abortion rights groups criticize is Brown’s vote for an appropriations bill that, among many, many other things, would have eliminated funding for Title X family planning and defunded Planned Parenthood. He said he “would have had different priorities” for spending cuts. And he cosponsored the defeated Blunt amendment, which would have allowed employers or insurers to refuse to provide insurance coverage for certain medications or procedures if they objected for religious reasons.

That legislation was directed at contraception, coming after the Obama administration’s announcement that religious-affiliated organizations, such as hospitals and colleges, would have to provide free contraception coverage for their employees. The president later amended that ruling, saying the free coverage would be paid for by insurance companies in that case. Brown said he supported the Blunt amendment because “no one should be forced by government to do something that violates the teachings of their faith.’’

Brown’s 2011-2012 voting record led to an 80 percent anti-abortion voting score from the National Right to Life Committee, the support (but not endorsement) of Massachusetts Citizens for Life, and a 45 percent voting score from NARAL Pro-Choice America. NARAL put Brown in a category it calls “mixed choice.”

The group has called the latest ad “misleading.” NARAL President Nancy Keenan said in a press release that Brown’s “support for women’s reproductive health is inconsistent at best.” NARAL’s political action committee has donated to Warren’s campaign, and the National Right to Life Committee’s PAC donated to Brown in 2010.

Not all of the votes NARAL and NRLC monitor pertain strictly to abortion, however. NRLC includes votes on repealing the federal health care law and on the Disclose Act, which would have required independent groups to disclose donors giving more than $10,000 for political campaigns. NARAL includes votes on the nomination of a circuit court judge.

Anne Fox, president of Massachusetts Citizens for Life, has said that Brown “votes pro-life,” but his stated “pro-choice” stance stops the group from fully endorsing him. She told us that while his voting record “does seem counterintuitive,” he has been “consistent.” Fox says: “He had the same record at the Statehouse.” The group also supported him in 2010, when Brown was running for his Senate seat in a special election.

When he was a state senator, Brown backed a bill to require a 24-hour waiting period before a woman could have an abortion, during which time women would be given information about and pictures of the development of the fetus. He also voted in favor of keeping protesters at least 35 feet away from abortion clinics. He introduced an amendment to allow hospitals to opt-out on religious grounds of legislation requiring them to give emergency contraception to rape victims, but he later voted for the full bill anyway. He even voted to override then-Gov. Mitt Romney’s veto of that bill.

Fox says that her group asked him about issues such as abortion funding, partial birth abortion, parental consent and conscience rights, and that Brown’s votes on those issues since he won his Senate seat align with Massachusetts Citizens for Life.

Readers can make their own judgments about Brown’s votes that are supported by anti-abortion groups. But Emily’s List is wrong to say he is “lying.” He has consistently said he is a supporter of abortion rights.

Equal Pay

Brown’s ad also says that he will “fight” for “equal pay” for women, another claim that has Emily’s List crying foul. The group points to one vote — Brown’s vote this year against the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would have required businesses to give a reason for disparities in pay. Republicans said it would encourage lawsuits and unreasonably hamper employers. Brown said: “It’s the right cause but the wrong bill.”

Brown’s office told the Boston Globe that he “strongly supports” the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which expanded women’s ability to sue in pay discrimination cases, and that he would have voted for it.

— Lori Robertson