The Massachusetts Democratic Party released a hard-hitting mailer against Republican Senate candidate Scott Brown, Greg Sargent reported over the weekend, accusing Brown of wanting the state’s hospitals to turn away all of the 1,736 Massachusetts women who were raped in 2008.
“1,736 WOMEN WERE RAPED IN MASSACHUSETTS IN 2008,” the mailer said (all capital letters in the original). “SCOTT BROWN WANTS HOSPITALS TO TURN THEM ALL AWAY.”
The ad is an extension of a a Coakley TV ad from last week, which attacked Brown for having backed proposed legislation in the state Senate to allow hospitals or hospital personnel to refuse to dispense emergency contraception to rape victims. That ad was also particularly brutal, with the visual of a woman cowering with her head in her hands, presumably meant to signify that the woman was a rape victim being harmed even further by Brown’s policies.
So is the claim true, or not? The short answer is that Brown did not want hospitals to turn away rape victims en masse, refusing to provide any and all care. He did want to guarantee them the legal ability to refuse to provide emergency contraception. This was presented accurately in the Coakley TV ad, but is being seriously twisted around in this state Dem mailer.
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The Boston Globe wrote last week of the arguments over Coakley’s ad:
The dispute is over a 2005 amendment that Scott Brown sponsored in the state Senate. The amendment would have allowed a doctor, nurse or hospital to deny rape victims an emergency contraceptive if it “conflicts with a sincerely held religious belief.”
The amendment, which did not pass, was attached to a bill that he ultimately voted for, which required emergency rooms to provide the contraceptives to rape victims.
In Coakley’s latest ad, released after a heated debate Monday night, a narrator says, “Brown even favors letting hospitals deny emergency contraception to rape victims.”
Brown and his supporters have declined to discuss the underpinnings of his amendment, instead trying to focus on the fact that he supported the overall legislation.
Over the weekend, Brown’s campaign said they would file a criminal complaint, under a state law that forbids false statements against political candidates. “People can shade things and spin things, but it has to have some kernel of truth,” said Brown campaign counsel Daniel Winslow.
Don’t expect the criminal complaint to go very far. As a general rule, civil and criminal complaints filed over campaign attacks don’t result in much, because the courts are loathe to get involved in policing the rough and tumble of political debates. To penalize campaign speech would create a chilling effect that would intimidate future campaigns, so an attack would have to be really bad and really false to merit legal penalties.