On Contraception, Democrats Roll Towards Gutter In Massachusetts

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The pressure is intense in Massachusetts, and the stakes could not be higher for all Democrats. But Martha Coakley and the Democratic Party have begun to push the boundaries of fair play. Here is what we have gotten in the last week from Democrats who are trying to tarnish Scott Brown’s reputation among women voters:

A direct mail piece from the state Democratic Party that announces: “1,736 Women Were Raped In Massachusetts in 2008; Scott Brown Wants Hospitals To Turn Them All Away.”

An ad by Coakley that flashes the words, “Deny rape victims care,” with a voiceover that announces, “Brown even favors letting hospitals deny emergency contraception to rape victims.”

Policy differences regarding emergency contraception for rape victims are, without question, fair game in a political contest. But on issues of such sensitivity, politicians have a responsibility to hew to the facts, and not inflame with false suggestions. Here is the amendment Scott Brown supported in April of 2005:

Nothing in this section shall impose any requirements upon any employee, physician or nurse of any facility to the extent that administering the contraception conflicts with a sincerely held religious belief. In determining whether an employee, physician or nurse of any facility has a sincerely held religious belief administering the contraception, the conflict shall be known and disclosed to said facility and on record at said facility.

If it is deemed that said employee, physician or nurse of any facility has a sincerely held religious conflict administering the contraception, then said treating facility shall have in place a validated referral procedure policy for referring patients for administration of the emergency contraception that will administer the emergency contraception, which may include a contract with another facility. The referrals shall be made at no additional cost to the patient.

The amendment failed, and Brown went on to vote for the underlying bill anyway.

Two key points to make here. First, nothing in the amendment says that hospitals should “Turn Them All Away.” In fact, the amendment requires that all hospitals either provide the emergency contraception treatment or arrange to provide it, on site or by referral at no cost to the patient. Second, the sort of care that Brown supports potentially delaying in deference to the religious views of health providers is limited to emergency contraception, which is not what the screen shot in the Coakley ad implies. As Politifact put it:

The most misleading part of the ad, though, is not what the narrator says, but what appears on screen. As the contraception amendment is mentioned, viewers see the words, “Deny rape victims care.” Emergency contraception is certainly a type of care. But the language on screen implies that Brown would support denial of even, say, treatment of injuries sustained in a rape. That’s far from the truth.