Credit: Jenny Warburg
(WOMENSENEWS)--The question of a Republican senator's stance on women's reproductive choices in a party with a "life begins at conception" platform has come up in the Massachusetts Senate race.
Ann Stone, chair and founder of the political action committee Republicans for Choice, says it's critical for reproductive rights that Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., remain in the Senate.
Brown's opponent, Democrat Elizabeth Warren, the architect of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to Washington, charges Brown can't be trusted on such key votes as nominations for the Supreme Court and access to birth control.
There are only 40 pro-choice and 14 "mixed-choice" senators in Congress today, according to NARAL Pro-Choice America, the Washington-based abortion rights group. It labels Brown mixed-choice. In 2011, he voted against a continuing resolution to bar Planned Parenthood from receiving appropriation funds, but also voted for a different resolution that, among other things, defunded Planned Parenthood.
But Stone supports Brown: "He's important because he is one of the core Republican moderates in the Senate…You want more of that in the caucus, not less."
Stone argued that challenger Warren adds nothing on the Democratic side when it comes to choice. "There are many like her," she argued. "You do not want fewer people facing Jim DeMint and Tom Coburn," two socially conservative Republicans in the upper chamber.
The Warren campaign disagrees and points to a moment during the second debate on Oct. 1 between the candidates for the U.S. Senate seat when Brown was asked about which Supreme Court justice he admired. His first response – Justice Antonin Scalia – forced Warren to suppress a smile onstage.
"Justice Scalia has said he is 'adamantly opposed' to Roe v. Wade and it is based on a theory that's 'simply a lie'," said the Warren campaign in an email interview. "He's said that there is no constitutional right to birth control….This once again shows that when it comes to the issues that matter – like who sits on the Supreme Court – women just can't count on Scott Brown."
NARAL Pro-Choice America's deputy political director Erika West agrees. If President Barack Obama is not re-elected, West said, and someone who objects to abortion rights is nominated for the bench, "Sen. Brown clearly doesn't have an issue with the nominee's position," which she said was "concerning."
In the third debate on Oct. 10, Brown--who is not shy about identifying as pro-choice in a solidly Democratic state--said that both candidates support Roe v. Wade.
Warren shot back that he voted against the nomination of current pro-choice Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan. "These votes matter. Roe v. Wade may hang in the balance."
The Brown campaign did not respond to Women's eNews' request for comments by the time of publication.
David Hopkins, a professor of political science at Boston College, said that while the Scalia comment was an "interesting mistake," it probably would not have an impact because the voters who actually know who Scalia is have most likely made up their minds.
Hopkins expressed surprise that Warren is not using her ads to hammer home that a vote for Brown is a proxy vote for party control of the Senate, where a small Democratic majority has been able to hold off anti-choice bills passed in the GOP-controlled U.S. House of Representatives.
Instead, Warren's ads push the message that voters should send her to Washington, given her role in creating the consumer protection agency, to stand up for the middle class against Wall Street.
Brown's ads play up his bipartisan credentials. A recent spot featured him talking to a single mom with three daughters struggling to make ends meet in a tough economy. "Creating jobs is more important than what party you belong to," he said in the ad.
Second-Most Bipartisan Senator
Brown--who won the Massachusetts special election for U.S. Senate in 2010 after longtime Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy passed away–was ranked the second-most bipartisan senator by Congressional Quarterly in 2011, a distinction he often touts.
The New York Times election blog FiveThirtyEight gives Democrats a healthy 82.7 percent chance of having a Senate majority after the elections as of Oct. 11, although it will be a close split.
NARAL's West declined to speculate on the abortion-votes composition of the Senate after the elections except to say that wins for two pro-choice incumbents, Sens. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, are looking more promising in recent polls.
Brown bolstered his pro-choice bona fides during the Oct. 10 debate by arguing that he believed military women who want to have abortions should "get care and coverage they need."
He was one of three Republicans – with Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Susan Collins, R-Maine – on the Armed Services Committee to vote to end a law requiring rape victims in the military to pay for their own abortions if they choose to end the pregnancy.
Warren argued during the same debate that although "he's had some good votes," Brown co-sponsored the Blunt Amendment, which would have allowed employers to be exempt from providing insurance coverage for birth control if they had a moral objection.
Stone of Republicans for Choice pointed to a recent op-ed by former pro-choice Republican congresswoman from Connecticut, Nancy Johnson, who argued that members of Congress could favor the Blunt Amendment and be pro-choice. Brown argues that his vote on the Blunt Amendment was about religious freedom, not contraception.
Samantha Kimmey is a writer covering women and politics this election season.
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